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Powers vol.3: Little Deaths

Updated on June 5, 2010

"Powers" is a comic book series written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Michael Avon Oeming. I've already read through it before, but I have been slowly working my way through again, because I liked it so much the first time.

"Powers" takes place in a world in which people with super powers are common, and are supposed to be registered. Instead of focusing on the superheroes and supervillains, however, "Powers" is about two police detectives, Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim, who investigate super-powered crime. What that means can vary from story to story; Volume 3, "Little Deaths," is made up of three separate stories, each dealing with a different sort of crime.

The first story (and the longest), "Groupies," deals with the mysterious death of a very powerful superhero found dead in a seedy apartment with nary a scratch on him. "Ride Along" features a cameo by the comics writer Warren Ellis, engaging in a ride along with Walker for research about a new comic. And "The Shark" has a low-level super hero being questioned over the murder of a super villain.

Of the three, "Groupies" is probably the best. This is because it's allowed to spread out through 3 issues, and Bendis and Oeming do some really interesting things with the medium. For instance, much of the second issue is designed to look like a "People"-like magazine, while the beginning of the third issue has two pages with essentially the same panel repeated over, just with changes to the light to show that time is passing. Oeming and Bendis also provide a trademark scene they use often in "Powers": to simulate interviewing many people, they have a two-page spread of tiny panels showing various people's initial reactions. Doing this not only demonstrates the diversity of the world Oeming and Bendis have created, but also is able to give a whole lot of plot in very little space.

"Ride Along" is OK, and it's cool to have a cameo by Ellis, but really the only reason for its existence is a lengthy rant about the lack of genre diversity in comics delivered by Ellis. The rest of the story is kind of weak.

"The Shark" interesting, but the story seems slight. I also disliked that the second issue of the story was rendered as a court report, i.e. almost entirely text. Part of reading a comic is to see the pictures.

Oeming's art is really good, kind of cartoony (allowing for an occasional comedic aside easily), but very powerful. Of particular note is his use of shadows, especially in scenes where Walker and Pilgrim are interviewing someone under the "dampers," green lights that keep people from using their powers. As mentioned above, the things he does like the magazine in issue 2 of "Groupies" are both impressive and creative. Oeming's art is fully half the reason to read the series.

Bendis' writing is the other half of the reason. His dialogue is snappy, often funny (particularly Deena Pilgrim's short tempered pugnaciousness), and just seems natural. Pilgrim and Walker compliment each other without having to delve into cop stereotypes; Walker is perhaps slightly more serious and reserved that Pilgrim, but neither of them fits into the "stick in the mud" or "loose cannon" cliche roles. Bendis' writing also is able to turn on a dime from drama to comedy and back again: a tense investigation of a body is broken up with Pilgrim slipping and complaining that she "got brain on me," which in turn shifts back to drama when Walker finds a vital clue. 

"Powers" is an interesting twist on the superhero genre, filled both with innovative art that really takes advantage of its medium, as well as interesting characters and very snappy dialogue. It is definitely worth checking out for anyone who loves superhero stories, crime dramas, or just good stories.    

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