3 Reasons Why You Should Read Powers, and 1 Reason Why You Shouldn’t

New and exciting ideas often come from jamming old ones together. That’s certainly the case for Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s long running comic series Powers.

At first glance, Powers is a classic case of bolting the police procedural onto another genre. Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim are homicide detectives with an unusual beat. All their cases relate to superpowered people, and in a setting where superheroes are celebrities, that leads to some big cases. Sounds like the perfect recipe for a murder of the week show. But Powers is so much more than that.

Strong Characters

Unlike many detective stories, Powers is character driven. The personalities of the detectives and the people around them are vital to the plot. Each case changes them as people, and changes their relationships.

Powers looks at how investigating grizzly murders in a high pressure department affects people. It also looks at how living with superheroes affects them. How does it change a person to lose the memories of their past, accidentally rip off someone’s arm, or find out that the person they work with can leap tall buildings in a single bound?

These are characters rooted in their world, and all the more compelling for it.

Striking Art

Go do an image search for ‘Powers comic’ and you’ll quickly see why I’m taken by the art of this book. It’s dark and stylish. Human shapes are exaggerated in characterful, interesting ways. It’s full of the distorted light and falling rain of film noire.

On top of that, Oeming plays around with page layouts just enough to be interesting but not so much that it’s distracting. This is a part of comics art that’s often neglected, but can make a huge impact.

I don’t know much about art, but I like to see interesting things done with any medium, and this is interesting.

It Doesn’t Sit Still

As I mentioned in discussing characters, this is a book where people change, as does the world around them. Every story arc brings some significant shift in the lives of the characters. The scale of change varies, from romantic entanglements to attacks that kill thousands of people and traumatise the world. This is how the story avoids becoming case of the month detective fare. These cases take place against a backdrop of changing lives.

Beware the Darkness

But all the reasons why I love this book are also the reasons why it’s not going to be for everyone. It’s a darker, more troubling book than the setup and those cartoonish characters make it appear. Hugely influenced by David Simon’s Homicide: Life on the Streets, this is a dark depiction of both crime and policing.

The characters are interesting, but not always likeable. The art can be dark to the point of grim. The upheavals of the story can be deeply unsettling, especially if you become attached to the characters. Being left in suspense for eleven volumes over whether a lead character committed a murder, that’s a level of tension that can be hard to take.

Powers is a daring and fascinating comic book. If you like superhero stories or The Wire then you should consider giving it a go. If you like both then you should rush out and grab a copy now. But if you like things safe and easy, this probably isn’t the comic for you.

Now excuse me, but having read fourteen volumes in two weeks, I need to curl up somewhere safe and warm for a little while.

Then I’ll go out and buy the next volume.

Today I will mostly be reading…

It’s the weekend and I’m home alone, so as soon as I catch up on work I’ll be getting down to some reading. And in case you’re also looking for something to read, here are a few recommendations of things I’m enjoying:

Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal

After spending half this week talking about the first of Kowal’s Glamourist Histories books, of course I’ve started on the second. Straight away it’s setting a different tone, with the protagonist having moved from a provincial Jane Austen style story to the Prince Regent’s court, and with talk of Napoleon and hints at adventure on the continent. While I was a little disappointed by the change in tone near the end of the first book, simply because it felt out of place, a whole book with that tone is something I’m looking forward to, and I love the portrayal of magic in the glamourist world.

Plus I’m a sucker for books that combine fantasy with issues of art and power.

Ultimate Comics Spider-man Volume 5 by Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez

I’m not one of these guys who’ll read anything with Spider-man in it, but Bendis writes a fantastic Spidey. I like the way he shook up the Ultimate version of the character by replacing Peter Parker with Miles Morales. Miles is a very likeable character, and Bendis’s always smart dialogue is particularly great for these characters. This volume is a take on the classic story of a superhero trying to leave that life behind, only to get drawn back into heroism. It’s particularly poignant to see a teenager face the dilemma of how to handle that. I wasn’t familiar with Marquez before this book, but his art is clear and dynamic and well suited to Ultimate Spider-man. This is tonight’s light reading, but it’ll still have depth, and that’s why I love it.

The Rebel by Albert Camus

I’m not exactly going to rush through this one. Unless you’re looking for some heavy politically-oriented philosophy then it’s not for you, and I’m re-reading it just a few pages at a time as an aid to self-reflection. But for all their image as cigarette-smoking posers, and for all the potential bleakness of their insistence on discarding old sources of meaning, I find the French existentialists uplifting. Whether right or wrong, the idea that the only true value is the one we create seems particularly important when considering art, which as a writer I do on a daily basis. And in an era when we’re bombarded with meaningless choices, Camus reminds us that people have had to fight for that freedom, and that choice can be meaningful.

It helps that the guy looks so cool on the cover. Once again proving that the existentialists were posers as well as thinkers.

And if you’re looking for something else…

I won’t be reading my own books – I know how they all end – but if you’re looking for short stories then please check them out. There’s science fiction, fantasy, steampunk and even alternate history. You can read all about them here.

What are you lot reading this weekend? Any recommendations you’d like to share?