is an American
, comic book
series by Brian Michael Bendis
(writer) and Michael Avon Oeming
(artist). The series' first volume was published by Image Comics
). Subsequent volumes (beginning in 2004 along with David Mack
) have been published by Marvel Comics
as a part of the Icon imprint
is set in a world where superpowers are relatively common but not mundane. It follows the lives of two detectives, Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim, police officers in a Homicide department devoted to cases that involve "powers" (people with superpowers). Walker himself used to be a costumed superhero named Diamond, but became a police officer after he lost his abilities. Though stripped of his powers, he still retains his contacts within the superhero community, even becoming engaged to an ex-colleague, who is later killed. In later issues, Walker is offered the chance to become the world's latest secret Guardian as part of The Millennium Guard, a secret group of intergalactic guardians, accepting the responsibility and the powers that come with it.
Deena Pilgrim, his partner, is also hiding at least one troubling secret. She contracted superpowers during a fight with an underworld thug named the Bug, an event which she kept under wraps. As a result of this, she unintentionally kills her abusive boyfriend in self-defense, and hides the evidence, although coming under investigation by Internal Affairs.
Creation of Powers
Bendis and Oeming (and David Mack) became friends while all three were working on individual small press projects. Bendis says that he also began to "analyz[e] why it was that I [had] never attempted to write a superhero comic" at the time, while he was writing crime books such as Jinx
despite loving the genre. He concluded that Frank Miller
's The Dark Knight Returns
and Alan Moore
and Dave Gibbons
had really said all that needed to be said about superheroes, so he had "moved onto another genre where I thought I had something to say." Combining his love of crime fiction
with a "VH1
: Behind the Music
look at superheroes" and his "love of the police procedural
," he felt a concept evolving. These, plus his having read Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets
(the novel on which Homicide: Life on the Street
was based) and Janis Joplin's biography
combined with Oeming's initial drawings - and his having already been interested in producing a black and white crime/noir comic with Bendis - brought about the creation of Powers
It has subsequently been revealed that Powers was initially pitched to DC Comics, after DC enquired of Bendis and Oeming what they were hoping to create.
was initially previewed in a series of original strips which ran in Cliff Biggers
and Ward Batty
's Comic Shop News
a comics-industry periodical available from most comic shops. The eight strips were colored and lettered by Bendis (before initial colorist/letterer Pat Garrahy
became involved) and complimented the up-coming series as a companion piece in newspaper strip form.
Despite both creators only having produced work in black and white before Powers
, Bendis envisioned Powers
in color, and convinced Oeming that it could work, despite the dramatically higher number of sales required to sustain a color comic. Debuting with sales of 12,500 (around the "break even" mark for a color comic, although "like ten thousand more" than Bendis' previous book, Torso
was faced with an uncertain future, as sales of comics tend to dwindle over subsequent issues. Fortunately, Image Comics
publisher Jim Valentino
and head of marketing Anthony Bozzi
both read and enjoyed the first three issues (lettered and laid out by Bendis himself, a hang-over from his earlier fully creator-owned works where he took on the complete roles of several individuals), with Bozzi reportedly saying "If we can't make a book like POWERS sell we really should stop making comics." Image offered to double-ship the second issue, effectively doubling the orders for that issue as an attempt to boost sales: the gamble worked, and issue #1 was soon reprinted, while according to Bendis, "issues #3-11 saw an upswing" in sales every issue. Indeed, the reported Diamond
pre-order figures show sales climbing above 23,000 by issue #7, and topping 30,000 with issue #14 and stabilising between 25,000 and 30,000 for the remainder of the titles' Image run. These strong sales allowed Oeming to quit his job as a security guard, while Bendis' launching of Ultimate Spider-Man
had a positive knock-on effect on Powers
sales as readers searched out his comics - "to see who the hell I was" in Bendis' words.
Bendis cites the main difference between the creator-owned series and his mainstream work as the ability "to kill everybody," generally not widely allowed on company-owned projects, allowing for an analysis of the "genre from that unique perspective."
In an extended interview reprinted in Powers: Psychotic
, Oeming and Bendis name several films and TV programmes as having been inspirational in the visual look of Powers
. These include:
Citing a close friendship with both Greg Rucka
and Ed Brubaker
, Bendis and Oeming view both writers are "amazing crime writers," singling out Gotham Central
as being one of many Powers
-like comics to have been released after it was launched but not one produced ostensibly as a knockoff. Bendis notes that Rucka and Brubaker gave himself and Oeming a "heads up" that they were preparing a "cop book in the DC Universe," and entirely separate from the plethora of titles which seem to merely be attempting to ape Powers
Both creators have stated that they were initially extremely worried - Oeming says "we almost folded up the tent" - when they learned that legendary writer Alan Moore was preparing what was to become Top 10 for America's Best Comics. Announced after Bendis and Oeming "had two issues in the can" but none solicited, and having been working on them content that "no one's thought of" the juxtaposition of police procedural and superheroics, discovering an ostensibly similar idea nearly stopped Powers before it started. Fortuitously, Moore's comic was "superhero cops, a different genre" and different enough that Bendis and Oeming felt safe in continuing.
The look and style of the "Powers" world
Bendis cites two images produced by Oeming (one for Bendis' Jinx
, and one for David Mack's series Kabuki
) as originating the - then experimental - "Powers' style," and "inspir[ing] everything in [Powers
]". (Indeed, Bendis and Oeming's first collaboration was "Mall Outing" in Jinz: True Crime Confessions
. It is included in Little Deaths
"for Powers completists and curiosity's sake.") Oeming writes that the style developed from his "trying to get work on the Batman Adventures
stuff," and says that he talked with Bendis about doing "a crime book... [in] this particular kind of style... this Bruce Timm
kind of animated [style]." Initially, Oeming wanted to do Powers
in black and white
, but Bendis convinced him otherwise; similarly Oeming shied away from the superheroic aspects, wishing to focus on noir crime, but was talked around.
With the basic style decided upon, the two began to flesh out the look of the series, one \"key element\" being the \"juxtaposition of noir and superhero images.\" Bendis writes in the 'Sketchbook' section of the Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl? TPB that \"one of the rules of film noir is that the city itself should be considered a lead character.\" To this end, he "made" Oeming watch " "Visions of Light"... an amazing documentary by the American Cinematographers Institute about the art of lighting in film," which he saw as important to the feel of comics also.
Oeming has noted that, although seen as an overtly 'cartoony' style, "[i]n general kids don't like the art in Powers," which helps sidestep potential problems with the more 'adult'/mature nature of the comic not being aimed at younger children. His position on possible censorship is simple and straightforward "[w]e don't have it in books, so we don't need it in comics."
Oeming writes that both he and Bendis "do a lot of research" for their projects, and that before he began "Powers
I went to the local police station and... got to do ride-alongs. met the captain [and] took extensive photo reference of all their equipment." (c.f. Issue #7)
Plots, themes and purpose
In conversation with Oeming, Bendis opines that, after "decid[ing] on the story, I start questioning what the purpose of it is." Suggesting that this is not a widespread practice, he stresses the importance of authors "ask[ing] themselves why they are writing what they are writing [since a story] needs to say something other than just being cool." Sometimes this means that "the theme can derail the original story and take it in another direction." Oeming counters that in his own work, he tries to "either have the meaning and build the story around that or have a cool story with no meaning and then find that meaning and go back and work it in."
Powers, Oeming says is "a superhero universe seen through the eyes of the police... [as] observed by the media" and everyday individuals. Bendis' intention was to view the "cliches of the superhero genre through the harder eyes of the cops," but with the added layer that (echoing "Behind the Music") "every arc has some footing in a famous rock star story." Bendis' scripts are often compiled from "a list of scenes," eschewing "the big exploding ending" in favor of a "character-driven or psychological ending." Indeed, in experimenting with plots, the duo swiftly moved beyond 'mere' police precedurals (despite those being both creators' "favorite stories"), constantly pushing each other creatively in new ways.
Bendis has a "POWERS idea-list" and the two have "enough stories left in [them], and... the audience to keep the book going" for a while yet. Both have repeatedly stated that they "know the ending," not in terms of time frame or issue number, but as a final act of closure, having "promised to never write or draw Powers
beyond the amount of fresh ideas" they have.
Beginning in issue #4, one of the more innovative storytelling techniques utilised in Powers
is the liberal use of cameos
. Investigating their first major crime, Walker and Pilgrim question 32 superheroes (and five pages later, 32 supervillains
) for leads. Described by Bendis as both "one of [his and Oeming's] best ideas" and a "'logistical nightmare'," many of these cameo-characters were lent by "well-known comic book creator friends" of Bendis and Oeming to add a level of metatextuality and flesh out the wider Powers universe. In addition to the "brand new super hero and villain creations" solicited, some creators allowed the appearance of their well-established (creator-owned) characters - such as Mike Allred
, Erik Larsen
's Savage Dragon
and Jim Valentino
. Other creators who have lent their time and characters to Powers
include: Angel Medina
, Dan Brereton
, Paul Jenkins
, Neil Vokes
, Judd Winick
, Jim Krueger
, Mike Baron
, Phil Jimenez
, Scott Morse
, Marc Andreyko
, Ed Brubaker
, Joe Quesada
and David Mack
As the series has progressed, more notable cameo appearances of real individuals have to a greater or lesser extent furthered/augmented/commented on the plot. In Powers issue #7 "Ride Along" introduced author Warren Ellis into the Powers universe, as a writer of "graphic novels" who accompanies Walker on a "ride along" for research purposes. The Powers Ellis discuses the domination of the comics industry by superheroes and the medium of comics itself, before being revealed at the end of the issue, in a super-metatextual moment, as the author of the in-Powers-universe comic entitled "Powers". In issue #23, an analogue of Dark Horse Comics editor Diana Schutz is interviewed on the problematic nature of vigilante superheroes who exist above the normal system of law, and why non-powered individuals might feel betrayed by, wary or resentful of them.
In his introduction to the bonus materials section of Powers: Roleplay
, Bendis highlights five Superhero comic cover cliches
, and then explains that "Mike and I decided very early on to create theme covers for each storyarc." "Roleplay" (issues #8-11)'s theme utilised "album cover designs
from albums you woud find in a college dorm room." The covers homaged were:
Issues #12-14 (collected in Little Deaths) were drawn in the style of trashy gossip/celebrity tabloid magazines. The covers were styled after the following magazines:
Other covers are homages to a number of things, including:
Under Icon, some of Volume 2's covers have been drawn in the style of various classic movie posters. Specifically, #7-10.
Move to Icon
In 2004, Marvel launched a new imprint for creator-owned material, open by invitation only to Marvel creators. Powers
was (with Kabuki
) the first series to debut under this new line, in large part due to Bendis' preeminent role as a Marvel author. The move worked well for the comic, "gain[ing] new readers" in the move from Image to Icon, with the initial issue garnering pre-orders of over 40,000 (and settling around the 30,000 mark with issues #7-8). In part, the move was precipitated by Jim Valentino no longer being the publisher of Image Comics, he having been a primary mover in the launch of Powers
(as well as publishing Bendis' earlier works Jinx
) and "a true patron saint of comics." Bendis notes that his "relationships" - especially with companies - "are always with people, not with logos."
For their anniversary issue (Volume 2, issue #12 from Icon), Bendis and Oeming had planned to swap roles - Oeming writing and Bendis drawing. Unfortunately, Bendis suffered an injury to his cornea
stopping him from drawing the full issue, although he did provide a cover for the issue.
For the TwoMorrows
#5 (Winter, 2003), the Powers
team produced a "behind the scenes look at the nuts and bolts creation of Powers
," later collected in Powers: Supergroup
. As with most comics, the issues' origins lie in the script, written for Powers by Brian Michael Bendis, a self-taught writer who explains that he learned "a lot from pop-culture
osmosis," as defined by Robert McKee
, and through a combination of "practice and reading." Writing in the typical full script
style, Bendis says that he also revises his scripts "pick[ing] them to death... [to] find the best one-liners."
Michael Avon Oeming writes that, on receipt of the script, he tends to "scribble a very small panel layout" making sure to leave space for the (copious) dialogue. He then draws (in pen) a tighter breakdown/layout, indicating "repeating panels" (for photocopying purposes) with "all [the] thought process happen[ing] in the layout" stage. By contrast, the actual "finished" artwork is then more straightforward, Oeming working with a lightbox
(maybe "listen[ing] and half watch[ing]" a DVD while he draws) to move from the layout to the full black & white artwork.
Ken Bruzenak (letterer from issue #13) writes that "Brian emails the script... a month or two early" but he doesn't look at it until receiving artwork from Oeming. Interestingly, he notes that "most of the double-page spreads are drawn smaller" than the single pages, "at printed size" rather than the standard oversized artboards used for single pages. These he photo-enlarges before lettering. Using a clear overlay, he lays out the balloons
before lettering the dialogue, sometimes needing to revise the position or size of the balloons, as well as attempting to fit the balloons behind
the artwork as much as possible. "Sound effects are computer generated" for uniform sounds, printed and "rubber cemented
onto the overlay for ease of scanning by the colorist.
Peter Pantazis (colorist from issue #13) also receives a copy of Bendis' script prior to the artwork, which arrives with the letter-overlays. Scanning artwork and overlays separately, the two are united in Photoshop
, and the first step is adding any large black areas highlighted by Oeming on the initial artwork. Next, Pantazis sets up layers/channels before starting to add color to each, referring to Bendis' script for pointers on mood, "lighting and shadows". On another layer, he creates the "special effects" and then adds in the letters-layer and e-mails both Bendis and Oeming for comments before correcting/revising any issues (including spelling mistakes) and sending the finished artwork to the printer.
Despite the high mortality rate, there are several recurrent characters in Powers
beyond the main two. Oeming has praised Bendis' writing in giving a "real depth" to even minor figures, writing that he particularly enjoys Bendis writing "a character as an asshole and then we [the reader] learn they are more valiant than most of the [other] characters."
- Christian Walker - Homicide Detective for the Powers division. Veteran cop Walker was previously a power before losing his abilities. There are many things about him that are still coming to light (such as his extreme longevity and immortality - "a history that may stretch back to the beginning of humankind"). His contacts with the \"Powers\" can be both a help and a hindrance to his investigations. Despite his longevity, he \"still doesn't know how to communicate\" being \"locked up in his own brain\" in the words of Oeming.
- Deena Pilgrim - Beginning as a rookie, Pilgrim started off as a lowly police officer on the streets of the Powers city. Pilgrim started out as the partner of the corrupt Captain Adlard (who worked for Mama Joon, a powerful crime boss). Adlard was murdered seven years prior, timing this just before Deena's transfer request to work with Walker as part of the Powers Homicide department. Not much else is known of her past, and she harbors a number of secrets. Deena's character is based in part on Bendis' wife, and partly on Oeming's, who are "both kind of rambunctious, funny, and constantly say[ing] stuff that is shocking."
- Retro Girl - The first arc details the death of Retro Girl (first name Janis, last name unrevealed), a popular and powerful super-heroine. Retro Girl is in fact a legacy of women - with or without powers - who are continuously reincarnated. Walker has met several incarnations in his lifetime, but he has only vague recollections of them. The latest incarnation is Callista, a young girl he saved.
- Captain Cross - Head of the Department, he has known Walker since the 80's during and after his stint as the super-hero Diamond. They met when Diamond helped him with a case, the exact nature of which has still to be revealed. It has been noted that Walker's job might be a gift from him.
- Detective Kutter - Deceased. Bendis once explained that at least one of his characters had to be an id. Kutter is it, rude, crude and at times interfering, but despite his coarse personality he was a good detective, who merely was "constantly saying inappropriate things." He was killed during the "Legends" arc when an apparently dead power decapitated him.
- Triphammer - Real name Harley Cohen, an Iron Man like character, he chose to disappear after the events of "Who Killed Retro Girl", in which he kills the man who has been targeting powers and was responsible for the death of Retro-Girl. He has since reappeared only once after having had extensive plastic surgery. It has been revealed that he is the inventor of the "power drainer", a device capable of temporarily neutralizing the abilities of super-powered individuals.
- Calista - Her character traits are allegedly "based on Mike Oeming."
- Zora - Deceased. A power, like Christian Walker she appeared to have immortality, but unlike him, she possessed a greater capacity for memory. She and Walker knew each other for years but according to her, for much longer since the time of Ancient China. They were shortly engaged before she was killed by a government created power who went insane. She claimed her abilities came from her complete lack of belief in all things spiritual and her acceptance that she was her own God.
The first, second ,and third complete story arcs, "Who Killed Retro Girl?", "Roleplay" and "Little Deaths" were published online in a daily page-per-day format, and the fourth arc, "Supergroup", is currently being released, with one or two new pages on weekdays.
Free to visitors and with permission from series co-creators, Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Oeming:
Who Killed Retro Girl?
Singer/songwriter Brodie Foster Hubbard
performs a song called "Powers," which incorporates his own life and allusions to the Super Shock storyline.
Rock star story arcs
Bendis has stated that (echoing "Behind the Music") "every arc has some footing in a famous rock star
story" "pop icon or famous story in music history." Bendis is a "big, big fan of musician biographies" and "almost every murder has been based on an actual musical biography." These include:
- Retro Girl - Janis Joplin. Bendis' inspiration came from reading Pearl: The Obsessions and Passions of Janis Joplin.
- Olympia - the storyarc was based on Pamela Des Barres' I'm With the Band, detailing the many liaisons of a famous groupie.
- FG-3 - The Fugees. Bendis confesses to being "very upset at the breakup of the Fugees."
The storyarcs themselves revlove around broad musical themes and ideas. These include:
- "Roleplay" - "the whole wannabe aspect of life" and specifically "tribute bands being these weird things" that want to be something else; coupled with the RPG lifestyle.
- "Anarchy" - "Punk... the anarchy mindset."
- "Sellouts" - in Bendis' words "the greatest VH1 BEHIND THE MUSIC episodes are... the bands that CAN'T STAND EACH OTHER!" and include members who feel as if they are "outsiders in their own bands." (Oeming)
Collected editions and other books
- Powers Vol. 1 hardcover (collects Vol. 1 #1–11, Powers Activity And Coloring Book; ISBN 0-7851-1805-5)
- Powers Vol. 2 hardcover (collects Vol. 1 #12–24; ISBN 0-7851-2440-3)
- Powers: Script Book (reprints original scripts for Vol. 1 #1–11; ISBN 1-58240-233-7)
The series won the Eisner Award
for Best New Series for 2001 and Brian Michael Bendis won the Best Writer Eisner Award in 2002 and 2003.
As far back as 2001/2, it was announced that Powers
had made a movie deal with Sony
producers Mace Neufeld
(known for Men in Black