I still remember the thrill I felt when I read the very first issue of Powers back in 2000. In those days few fans had heard of Brian Michael Bendis, but I was persuaded to give this strange new Image title a try by Jim Demonakos, who then managed my LCS, the Comic Stop, but who was so skillful at marketing that he later went on to work as Image’s publicity manager (and also co-created the Emerald City Comicon, but that’s a bit of a digression).
I was blown away by early issues of Powers, feeling completely enraptured by the combination of what then were several very interesting elements in the comic. There was Bendis’s writing style, at the time new and seemingly fresh and clever. There were the clever plotlines that seemed to place super-heroes in the real world. There was the constant profanity and occasional nudity, which gave the comic a kind of adult, illicit thrill. And there was the supremely atypical art by Avon Oeming, all blacks and mood, which felt so fresh.
Over the last ten years my enthusiasm for this comic has definitely flagged. A big part of that has been that Bendis’s writing style has been exposed thoroughly. Bendis’s writing isn’t exactly fresh anymore; rather, I think we all are pretty damn familiar with Brian Bendis’s little quirks and ticks these days.
Another reason my excitement has ebbed is that the book just doesn’t feel as edgy as it once did. Where once it was thrilling to read a comic that featured never-ending profanity, in-your-face dialogue and graphic sex and violence, now none of those factors are especially unusual. Heck, flesh-eating zombies have gone mainstream these days!
So I greeted the second resurrection of Powers with a somewhat skeptical eye. And thus far it just hasn’t thrilled me.
The issue starts off with bloody violence, but it’s the nastiest and most sensationalistic violence that could be shown: a baby is impaled by a vampire upon a spike. That’s not cool, it’s just gross, and it’s a sign of how the industry has changed in the last ten years that such a scene doesn’t even cause a lifted eyebrow. The fact that we immediately learn that the baby is a vampire doesn’t really make the scene any less yucky, though the fact that the hero in that scene appears to be Detective Christian Walker at least makes the scene somewhat intriguing. However, since we already know that Walker is immortal (remember the infamous monkey sex issue of Powers?), that’s no real surprise.
The comic then takes a step back a bit from its graphic beginning and moves into an extended flashback to World War II. Those scenes are a weird mix of Golden Age hero comics with Bendis’s irreverent sensibility. The super-team’s rallying cry seems to be “Fuck those Nazi bastards in the ass,” but there’s not a lot of blood and guts in the battles, and the battles are surprisingly light-hearted for this comic.
At times this issue even reminds me of Paul Grist’s brilliant Jack Staff, a former sister title to Powers at Image that often juxtaposes colorful costumed heroes with very black backgrounds. Oeming does a really nice job of pulling off scenes like this effectively in this issue. There’s a terrific spread on page 12 that manages to be both hokey and really cool at the same time, simply because of the very interesting ways that Oeming uses his blacks on the page.
There are also some very interesting color effects. The burning city in the WWII scenes has an eerie glow about it that helps add to the story, giving everything a sort feeling of hyper-reality that makes super-powered heroes seem like an appropriate fit.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the WWII scenes in this book. For a change, Bendis delivers a full action scene that spares readers his quasi-cute dialogue. The scenes make effective use of the charm and energy of Oeming’s artwork, giving an energy that one doesn’t always see in this comic.
Unfortunately, I just wasn’t nearly as interested in the scenes in the comic that take place in the current day. There’s been a murder, and the murder is connected somehow to the super-heroes in WWII, but Bendis hasn’t yet given readers a reason to care about the murder aside from the fact that there’s some sort of connection to Detective Walker. And the modern-day scenes feature lots of bits of dialogue that seem right out of Bendis’s book of clichés.
I enjoyed this issue more than I really expected to. Bendis and Oeming’s work on the WWII scenes helped make this issue stand out from most issues of this series. But on the whole, the loss of freshness I feel for this series takes a lot of the thrill of the book away from me.