Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming bring the ripped from the headlines feel of the police procedural dramas like “Law and Order” and “Homicide: Life of the Streets” to the super hero genre in “Powers.” The series which began publication in 2000 mixes the hardboiled crime noir setting of the police drama with the colorful world of super heroes.
The story follows Detectives Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim as they investigate homicides involving super powered individuals. Their first case together is found in the pages of “Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl.” This initial story focuses on Walker, who is a typical leading man with a strong chin and muscular frame. He comes off as a loner preferring to work his cases himself. Contrary to his stiff exterior, from the start you see a softer side to this individual as he cares for Callista a young girl he rescues on one of his cases.
Soon Walker gets paired with Pilgrim and this rookie detective does little to endear herself to her new partner. Their first case together is to find the one responsible for the murder of Retro Girl, one of the most popular super heroes in the world. The investigation brings up many feelings for Walker who had some unknown past with Retro Girl which causes Pilgrim to delve into her partner’s past. What she uncovers is a secret Walker wished was buried and gone forever.
The characters are what drive this story. As the formulaic murder investigation unfolds, Bendis and Oeming use the interactions of the characters to make the story personal. They make you care about who they are and what role they play in the story.
“Powers” features Bendis’ patented lighting quick dialogue at its finest. Through many scenes he uses competing narratives to tell the story. From TV screens filling in the details of the case while the detectives hash out personal matters or other aspects of the case. Through the competing conversations, Bendis creates that chaotic feel of a police station as much is going on always in the background of the story.
Oeming’s animation styled artwork contrasts with the dark undertones of the subject matter, but it completely works for this environment. A darker, more realistic look would have bogged down the story making it too depressing, but Oeming’s style fills the book with excitement and energy. He gives that pop that the super heroes need to shine in this dark world.
The artwork is able to translate much of the emotional resonance to the story. Even as the images remain static in a scene where the detectives interrogate the hero Triphammer, his unchanging expression gets across much of the hero’s personality and how annoyed he is to be questioned by what he feels are his inferiors.
“Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl” introduces much of the world of “Powers” that Bendis and Oeming continue to explore today with the interrogation room with a “Drainer” that gives the room a green hue which becomes one of the hallmarks of the series. There is also the two page story sequence as the detectives canvass the area they speak to many who may provide some information on the story.
The “Powers” introductory arc has been collected in a variety of formats and is now available digitally through ComiXology. The series is considered some of Bendis’ finest work as he brings his crime expertise to the world of superheroes.