Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Powers #27

While his production has skyrocketed since the first issue of Powers hit the shelves three quarters of a decade ago, this series is most definitely writer Brian Michael Bendis’s baby. He’s poured so much of himself into this cast that they’ve become about as close as a fictional being can be to the real thing. Even secondary characters, such as the chief of police, are so carefully defined and developed that they could easily be the focus of their own series. When he speaks, you can almost hear his voice reading his lines in the back of your mind.

Now, with such a solid foundation of characters at his disposal, one might think that Bendis would hesitate to take risks, to change things up, to throw caution to the wind once in a while… when in actuality nothing could be further from the truth. Since day one, readers have been shown that nothing is out of bounds, and this story arc has been no exception. Sometimes these risks pay off, as in the “Who Killed Retro Girl” arc, sometimes they don’t (the infamous “humping monkeys” issue). The current story arc is more of the former, less of the latter.

I wasn’t crazy about the intergalactic theme of the last storyline, because it was such a wild change of perspective from what I was used to in this book. Thus far, this arc has addressed my qualms and returned the narrative to a smaller, more approachable scale. Maybe it’s personal preference, but I’m much more inclined to become emotionally invested in a story that deals with true detective work on street level than a wide, universe-spanning epic saga, overflowing with alien beings and mystical disembodied voices. At the end of the day, what brought Bendis to the dance in the first place was his work on detail-rich crime noir stories, and this issue is just further proof that he can still rock and roll in that genre whenever he feels like it.

After sixty-four consecutive issues and a pair of specials, Mike Oeming’s visuals are the beginning and the end of these characters. While his work has seen its share of peaks and valleys over the years, (particularly when the book’s running behind schedule) his style has largely remained the same since day one. He’s the definition of gesture and simplicity, often refusing additional linework even if the layout seemingly needs it to survive. His dark, shadowy tendencies have constantly given the book a distinctly grimy, downtrodden look and feel, but he’s delivered the goods in lighter, happier moments as well.

With the recent change to a larger monthly page count and a more regular (fingers crossed) shipping schedule, Oeming’s work has taken a mild turn for the worse. His artwork still carries a lot of weight and atmosphere, so it doesn’t feel like I’m reading a different book, but his style was never this rough and rushed before. Mike is still just one solid issue away from reaffirming himself in my eyes, but at the moment the quality of his work is beginning to slide.

Oeming’s artwork is perfectly matched by Nick Filardi’s colors, page for page, issue for issue. The colors of Powers have long been one of the book’s greatest successes, and though the job has been passed between a small handful of colorists, the strength of their work has never wavered. These hues are treated as almost a character unto themselves, they’re so frequently and effectively introduced. Most comics never seem to grasp the kind of magnitude that colors can carry, where Powers is constant living proof. They’re used so effortlessly to set a scene, like the deep reds, purples and maroons do for a strip club midway through this issue, that it’s hard to imagine the series working nearly as well without them.

Reading this book has become something of a treat. There really is nothing else like it on the market today, both in terms of subject matter and execution. Bendis and Oeming have been working together so long that it’s hard to imagine one without the other within these pages. They’ve got, arguably, the best cast of characters in comics and they aren’t afraid to use them, hurt them, evolve them or kill them if it’ll help further the storyline. Buy this, add it to your pull list and catch up on any issues you may have missed along the way.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 9

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