March 29, 2010

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Powers Volume 3

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming
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The third volume of Powers jumps around the series a bit as Detectives Walker and Pilgrim investigate the case of the death of a Superman-like cape who died in a sleazy apartment building, take Warren Ellis for a ride, and even end up involved in a contrived return to glory for a failed hero. Plus, there's even a coloring book for the kids!

The cover to the left of this text gives a pretty good indication of the work the poor letterers had to do in this volume. I hope they got hazard pay! The combined names of the two creators alone is enough to make comic book publishers everywhere question the practice of putting author names on comic covers. Oh, the poor letterers!

For those not familiar, Powers is the story of a pair of cops who deal with Superhuman crimes. One of them, the male half of the duo, is a former "cape" himself. His partner is a smart-mouthed female cop that doesn't take crap from anyone. In Bendis's capable hands, their dialog together is amazing. Working together again for most of the book, we see a return to what made the first trade sing. Bendis working on a character with no one to banter with just isn't the same to me.

The opening story is very good, with subtle hints to echo Clark Kent without it being too obvious. I love the idea of our dead hero having an uncomfortable interview based on a scandalous book--isn't that just how things would work in the real world? This case, which does have a bit of a gotcha ending just to warn you, gives Bendis and Oeming a chance to strike at the way the media grabs for gossip. They even turn most of one issue into a mock magazine.

It's good stuff, but the real gem here is Issue 7, where some guy named Warren Ellis shows up to write about what it's like to be a cop in the Powers world. He writes a comic book about it, imagine that. Bendis gets some playful digs in at one of the best writers in the business. I just wonder if the dialog was faked or from Ellis's various writings. Anyone know? If it's faked, it's faked very well. I love the comment on comics versus movies at the end, and my only regret is we didn't get to see Ellis teamed with Deena.

The final story, which I'm guessing was the annual, is sort of like reading Bendis writing an episode of Law and Order. Our two detectives investigate the crime, and in a "transcript" the prosecution finishes their work for them, with Oeming providing sketched visuals of the trial. It's stretching the comic medium a bit, and probably would never fly in a traditional capes comic. But Powers is an odd amalgam of crime writing and superheroes, so I thought it worked rather well.

The Powers coloring book is just silly fun, with both Bendis and Oeming poking fun at themselves and their creation. It reminds me of the times Stan Lee would use a few extra pages to take swipes at the comics business. Naturally, I loved it.

I liked this volume a lot the first time I read it, and nothing much has changed except my wordiness in putting together a review. The banter drives the appeal of powers, as Bendis writes a buddy cop story that could stand up with anyone's in any medium. Walker's quiet reserve and unflappable seriousness mixed with Pilgrim's hysterically funny ranting about everything from cape-inspired booty calls to falling down in brains gives the often serious crime stories a needed dose of comedy. This is Bendis doing what works best for him, and I wish he'd do more of it and less epic plots in his mainstream books.

Oeming's art is as steady as ever, using thick shadows to contrast with the glossy style of the tabloid sections. The colorists should be commended for their work here, as they really bring that contrast to life. Oeming gets to show his range, from tight small panels to sprawling splashes, and the results are even better than usual. Powers would lose a lot under the hands of a different artist. His style that's part animated Batman and part Mike Mignola really works here.

Powers is able to appeal to both those who like capes, those who like banter, and those who enjoy hard-boiled crime action. If you are scared of this because of the writer, don't be. I can easily recommend Powers to just about anyone, and I think they'd like it. I urge you to give it a try.