Editor's Note: Powers Annual arrives in stores tomorrow, April 16.
In my opinion, most of Brian Michael Bendis' mainstream superhero work has been pretty subpar, especially when he has worked on large-scale, universe-spanning stories. He's much better when he constrains himself to smaller, more personal tales of flawed human beings. Luckily, he's still producing his creator-owned series Powers, along with long-time collaborator, artist Michael Avon Oeming. The two of them have done some great stories in this series over the years, and with this Annual, they return to one of the most innovative eras on the book, the "Forever" storyline. That story arc was a departure for the series, stepping away from the usual gritty crime stories to tell a history-spanning tale that turned out to be the life story of the seemingly immortal Detective Christian Walker, who eventually became the superhero Diamond before losing his powers and joining the police force.
After a framing sequence in which a crime scene prompts Walker to remember an incident from his past, the story picks up at the end of the first chapter of the "Forever" storyline, the infamous "monkey sex" issue. We follow our hero as he sets off wandering across the pre-historic landscape and settles in a cave, eventually gathering a tribe of primitive people around him. He becomes known as Gor, and he hunts food for the people and protects them, until he becomes aware of a threat from a neighboring tribe. Could it be his enemy from that first story who would eventually become his nemesis for thousands of years?
It's a nicely-written tale, which, in a change for the series, was handled almost entirely by Oeming (Bendis only wrote the framing scene). In just a few short pages, he is able to introduce the situation and get readers involved in the story. Dialogue is limited, since it involves early man, and we get a good feel for the barbaric society and Gor/Walker's affection for his adopted people, along with his desire to protect them and the lengths to which he'll go to do so.
Oeming is no slouch on the art either. It's tempting to dismiss him, since his cartoony style looks so simple at first, but on closer examination, he works a lot of subtleties and details into his stories. I was especially floored by the minute hairs on his depiction of a gigantic bear. His sense of scale is also impressive, with sweeping landscapes and falling snow. One page follows Walker as he wanders through some mountains, each panel seeming moving forward several miles, as if we're watching from a plane doing a fly-by. And then there's the violence, which Oeming lingers on and makes especially horrific. That's been a strength of his throughout the series, and he seems to even amp it up here in this extra-harsh prehistoric age.
So, for fans of the series, it's a nice installment of the longer story, and a good bit of lost history for Detective Walker. Non-fans won't get too much out of it (other than a gory barbarian tale, if that's your sort of thing), but longtime readers should be happy. Oeming proves himself adept at telling stories from the past, so hopefully he'll get to do so again. For added value, the "letter column" contains a lengthy transcript of a conversation from Bendis' message board, in which he and other comics creators discuss writing comics. It's interesting stuff, but I don't know if it's worth paying for twelve extra pages to read it. But you still get a cool comics story, so I'm not complaining.
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