Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Oeming, Powers: Roleplay: Volume 2 of the original Powers run, back when Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim were relatively innocent for all their foul-mouthedness. They’re investigating the murder of local college students who’d been dressing up as Powers – illegal under the anti-costume laws – and who were apparently killed by an actual Powered bad guy, for unknown reasons. More than the hard-boiled dialogue, the trademark Powers artwork is what makes this memorable. The panels are informed by cinema techniques – lots of shot-reverse-shot and even repeated squares reminiscent of a filmstrip – but they learn from, rather than replicate, cinematic conventions. Varied panel size and placement also helps create the mood of rapidly changing information and fragmentary narrative – since the cops always come in at the end of the story, and only hear the parts relevant to their investigation.
Powers: Little Deaths (Vol. 3): I actually got this in loose issues, because it was cheaper than buying one of the used trades. Olympia, golden god figure, is found naked and dead in a dive apartment. As it turns out, he was quite the ladykiller; did one of the ladies strike back? A fairly slight mystery. This volume also includes a one-shot where Warren Ellis the comic writer goes on a ridealong with Christian, to Christian’s extreme displeasure, with dangerous results; an annual issue with a self-contained story of a powered hero who kills his worst enemy – and good friend; and the Powers Coloring/Activity book, doesn’t successfully manage to combine activities for kids with adult humor. Still, Little Deaths wins for best sloppy proofreading I’ve seen in a while:
Witness: "Someone told me something about the F.B.I. being involved,(Of course, if we end up living in a theocracy, that objection will be a perfectly valid one.)
but I don't really know anything beyond that."
Prosecutor: "Objection, heresy."
Powers: Supergroup (Vol. 4): A famous, popular, highly merchandised group of three black superheroes undergoes a fractious split – and then one of the members dies, pretty clearly killed in a Powers-related way. The investigation pits Deena and Christian against the FBI, which claims jurisdiction, as well as against the group’s marketing machine. The solution involves more than just individual lawlessness. Together with Vol. 6, The Sellouts, this story is what leagues of superheroes are like in noir-land: Scripted, manipulated, and marketed even when the members start out with good intentions. The Sellouts has a similar setup, only its ex-members have strong resemblances to the big-league DC heroes, and the story explores some of the issues raised by the idea that Superman/Hyperion/Dr. Manhattan’s powers are exponentially greater than anyone else’s. The Sellouts is a bigger story, with much more real estate destroyed, but both come back to the detectives’ individual loss of ideals in a world where nobility is never more than skin deep.
Powers: Anarchy (Vol. 5): This slim volume doesn’t feel like a full story. Someone is killing Powers in ways corresponding to their abilities. Deena, working with a new partner, has the case – but her main suspect will only talk to Christian. The best parts of the story are when people articulate their objections to the existence and relative legal immunity of Powers as unelected enforcers. Bendis doesn’t have anyone explicitly defend Powers, and the main characters are (at present) ordinary folk, who we see issue after issue dealing with the bloody aftermath of Powers battles, so the critique comes off somewhat more persuasively than it does in your average superhero comic – though this is still a kind of superhero comic, and some of the most eloquent arguments come from a murderer who’s also ignored the strictures of the law.
Powers: Forever (Vol. 6): The storytelling is ambitious – it begins with a dialogue-free issue exploring Christian Walker’s earliest origins – but this is probably my least favorite volume so far. I like the rhythms Bendis sets up with dialogue. And following Christian through age after age of battles, which he can’t remember because his powers preserve his body but not his memories, didn’t teach me much about who he is now, though we do learn how he lost his powers.