Monday, April 4, 2011

Powers series by Brian Michael Bendis

Powers series by Brian Michael Bendis
ISBN: 1582406693
Image Comics, 2006
207 p.

Plot Summary: Detective Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim are partners. They investigate crimes involving "powers," or superpowers. The superheroes are much like those comics fans are familiar with such as Batman, Wonder Woman, et cetera. When Retro Girl, a beloved superhero is killed, it's up to Walker and Pilgrim to find out what's happened. Part of the way through the story, it seems that Walker was once an individual who had "powers" but lost them or gave them up somehow. This gives him an advantage when investigating these cases that frustrates his partner Deena. However, throughout the book, both Walker and Pilgrim will have to save each other and learn to work together to get to the bottom of Retro Girl's murder.

Critical Analysis: Bendis' series avoids many conventions of superhero comics and delivers an original and entertaining story. The combination of detective work and traditional superhero storylines helps it outshine many other popular comic series. Oeming, the artist for the series, adds a layer of distinctiveness with cartoon-esque elements such as a heavy black line and exaggerated facial features. All of these elements illustrate Powers' withdrawal from traditional superhero comics and its ability to tackle stereotypes and turn them into interesting storylines.

Since the superheroes in Powers are not based in years and years of backstory like Batman, Spider-Man or Superman are, Bendis is allowed to use them more creatively than writers who are limited by traditional superheroes. A Superman-like superhero is used to illustrate his nuclear bomb-esque capabilities and gives a new perspective on the "safety" that these caped crusaders really deliver to society. Female superheroes are used to show the sexism and overdone chivalry in traditional comics. Powers as a series serves as a fully realized superhero deconstruction, asking readers who these people are and why society needs them.

Bendis' dialogue-heavy style and Oeming's ominous use of black glossy pages gives Powers a very cinematic feel. Scripts are often included in the back of each comic trade and they often read like an episode of CSI. Unlike other graphic novel series like Sandman per se, Powers is a fun, fast-paced crime series as opposed to a cerebral complex series. They both have their places in the graphic novel world, but Powers is arguably a bit more fun.

Reader's Annotation: When Retro Girl is mysteriously murdered, it's up to Detectives Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim to get to the bottom of the case.

Author Information: Brian Bendis is one of the busiest men in comics. Other than this, he has worked on Daredevil, Ultimate Spider-Man, a few noir thrillers, and he invented the Marvel Ultimates universe. He also worked on television's Alias.


Genre: crime/mystery graphic novel

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Reading Level: 15 to adult

Challenge Issues: nudity, violence

Challenge Defense Ideas: Become familiar with the book, keeping the challenge issues in mind. Refer to the library's collection development policy here. If possible, find other opinions from reviews, recommendations, or others who have read the book.

Why I included this title: Comics readers are usually fully aware of the DC and Marvel superheroes. I found Powers to be a welcome change and relief from the soap operatic cyclical storylines associated with well-known superheroes. The dialogue is clever and fast-paced, the art is unconventional and pleasing to the eye, there's little else a graphic novel fan could ask for.

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