May 7, 2010

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Powers Volume 4

Written by Brain Michael Bendis
Illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming
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When a member of a supergroup that's recently had membership issues dies, Detectives Walker and Pilgrim are called in to investigate. But between a government cover-up, media meddling, and a rather personal turn in the case for Walker, solving the crime may be beyond our pair's abilities. Will things ever be the same after they learn the whole truth of FG-3?

This was another strong outing in the series, with an extended mystery that's clogged by the competing agendas of the police, the government, the media, and the members of FG-3. We get a lot of twists and turns in the narrative, which is fitting for the crime stories we get to read in Powers.

I also liked the way in which this story used superheroes but was just as much a story about very human emotions and the way that a corporation can make us believe something about someone (or a group of someones) that isn't true at all. Think about the media build up of a football player, only to see them come crashing down to earth in their own very human faults. (As this review is written, that's happening with Ben Roethlisberger and Lawrence Taylor.) Or if sports aren't your thing, read about the way that the record labels manufactured the Monkeys or tried to make the Beatles something they didn't want to be in order not to lose their popularity.

It happens all the time, and while it doesn't usually lead to multiple murders, the theme is a strong one and drives the actions of the characters. Walker, Pilgrim, Wazz, Ted Henry, and the government all try to move the story the way that they want it to go and it seems that none of them are on the same page. When we get to the truth of the matter, it makes for strange bedfellows, as former adversaries must join together to see that the real story gets out. In what might be the best use of restraint so far in Powers, Bendis and Oeming leave it up to the reader's imagination if the truth sets everyone free or creates even more traps.

The most interesting part of this volume for me is the emotional progression of Walker. He's been controlled through the first three trades, but his anger at what is happening to the Powers he used to fly with finally comes out here, early and often. Part of the reason is a bit of a gotcha, but I'll forgive it and you probably will, too. It's going to be interesting to see how the relationship between Walker and Pilgrim goes after this, as its current dysfunction is simply not going to work in such a long series.

Powers always has a few winks and nods in it, and we get several here that I'll mention. If you like Jim Mahfood, it's clear Bendis does, too, giving several nods to his work in the background. Similarly, there's a clever cameo by a pair of movie critics and a comparison to a famous set of married political talking heads. I like when creators do those little touches, in ways that don't hit you over the head. These are handled skilfully and all fit in with the narrative.

My only problem with this one is that it feels like Oeming rushed the art a little bit. It doesn't have the crispness of the first three trades and looks like he's cheating a bit. However, it's still got interesting composition, especially when you consider how often he has to work around Bendis's copious amounts of dialog.

I continue to really enjoy Powers, just like I did back in 2006. It's been well worth the re-read. If you like crime stories and enjoy superheros, this series is a perfect fit for you.