RivkaT (rivkat) wrote,


Naoki Urasawa, Monster, vols. 2 & 3: Dr. Tenma continues the search for his former patient, a young boy whose life he saved at considerable personal cost and who repaid him by becoming a vicious serial killer. In volume 2, he discovers that his patient has another long-term target and learns to shoot, in the process reconciling a traumatized young girl with her guardian (a man whose connection with her is far from benign, which might make the reconciliation a bit creepy). In volume 3, he learns more about his patient’s background, which turns out to be baroque and sinister. The killer was always a monster, it seems, but he had help becoming so extreme a monster. coffeeandink speaks of this series as being about the constant tension between past bad acts and future potential for good – are there any unforgivable acts? Can good deeds redeem a once-bad person? The theme that stands out more for me is professionalism: A doctor is obligated to treat bad people, because that’s what it means to be a doctor. A detective is obligated to pursue criminals, even criminals who do more good than harm, because that’s what it means to be a detective. The obligation is categorical and does not take long-term consequences into account; all we can do is fulfill our roles. I’m still not convinced I’m going to make it to the end of the series, but I’m willing to try a few more volumes if only to see the variations possible on the theme of professional role, which is not all that common in fiction.

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,
but I don't really know anything beyond that."
Prosecutor: "Objection, heresy."
Judge: "Sustained."
(Of course, if we end up living in a theocracy, that objection will be a perfectly valid one.)

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.
Tags: c: monster, c: powers, comics, reviews

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