May 17, 2010

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Powers Volume 5

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming
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Due to the events of the prior trade, Detective Deena Pilgrim is working with a new partner but still on the powers beat. They're investigating the apparent serial killing of powers, both good and bad. A lucky break brings Deena to the truth behind the series of killings--and right back in to the life of former Detective Christian Walker. Can they put aside their differences long enough to take down a cult driven by the destruction of superheroes?

This was the last stop for me on my Powers tour when I was first reading it, and during the re-read, I could understand why. Rather than letting the mystery drive the story, it feels like we had a killing spree artificially created in order to reset the status quo of the Powers world. Thus, everything that happens has a contrived nature to it, as though it was scripted with a rigid ending--Walker's inevitable return--in mind. While that's acceptable in an issue or two, across an entire arc it just didn't work for me.

The problem is that the set up just doesn't have much going for it. After starting off with a great idea--and a few more nifty one-off caped crusaders--we're quickly in solution mode as the deus ex machina of a video tape takes out the mystery angle quickly. Dina's partner is clearly useless from the start, so we watch Deena do all the work as she tries to nail the person or person involved. This could have been a good chance to see Pilgrim as strong detective, but instead she's got the case handed to her. It's a disappointing choice on the part of Bendis. I expect better.

Further, I found the way in which things are resolved to be entirely too pat. Pilgrim gets to beat people up and nothing happens to her. It's meant to be a bit of comic over the top violence in a series that features an awful lot of gruesome scenes, but I just wasn't buying it--especially since she's under suspicion from the death of Johnny Royale. Similarly, Walker's return to the force has all the subtlety of the time Pilgrim was returned. A quick sweep under the rug, and everything is back to normal. I could live with it, except that this is now the second time that we've seen that trick pulled. If it happens a third time, I'm probably going to stop reading.

I also didn't care for the way that Pilgrim and Walker were reunited on a personal level. Waving things under the rug in the bureaucracy is one thing--waving very personal issues between two people is another entirely. Maybe that's a cop thing, I don't know. It certainly makes for inferior storytelling, in my opinion.

There just wasn't a lot in this volume that I like, which is unfortunate. Oeming's art is his usual excellent self, and the designs for the new heroes are always clever. Bendis's dialog is typical for him, with every character talking themselves to death. I normally like that better, but in this case, I don't think they got anything really good to stay. It doesn't help that there's whole strings of profanity, which just doesn't add anything.

My 2008 self referred to this volume as "flat," and I think that's apt. I don't think there was any good way to get Walker back, and this trade proved it. It would have been better to keep him in blue or keep him from Pilgrim, at least for a few set of story arcs. As it stands, the whole thing felt like a trick that didn't end up surprising the reader.

Whatever the case, this one shakes my faith in the series a bit. I'm going to keep reading, but honestly, Powers is going to need to get better for me to want to keep reading. It had a lot of promise, but there are cracks showing.