13 June 2011

"Powers: Little Deaths" by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming

Powers: Little Deaths
Created and Produced by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Avon Oeming
Color Art by Peter Pentazis, Pat Garrahy, Brian Michael Bendis
Typography by Ken Bruzenak, Pat Garrahy, Brian Michael Bendis
Editor: K.C. McCrory
Date of Publication (Trade Paperback): 5 September 2006
Collects Powers #7, 12-14, Powers Annual #1, Powers Activity and Coloring Book and Jinx True Crime Confessions
Cover Price: $19.99

Little Deaths is the third collected edition of Powers.  It reminded me of The Sopranos episode, "College" in that it's a terrific introductory episode despite not being the origin story/pilot episode.  It's instantly accessible and even though there are references to previous stories, they're peripheral enough that most literate readers should have no problem gleaning what they need in order to follow and enjoy Little Deaths.  Unlike its predecessors, this collected edition is not the presentation of a singular story  Rather, Little Deaths is effectively an anthology.

"Groupies" centers on the investigation into the death of superhero Olympia, which leads Detectives Walker and Pilgrim into the realm of women who throw themselves at people with superpowers.  It's an offbeat story, but as Anthony Weiner has reminded us, sex scandals are always in vogue and strangely fascinating.  What really makes this particular story interesting from a creative point of view is that quite a lot of information is relayed to us not in conventional comic book layouts, but through a mock-up of a magazine complete with an interview with Olympia.  Not a lot of comics creators would be comfortable risking their readers' attention by breaking from the norm for an entire issue like that, but I applaud Bendis and Oeming for their gambit.

"Ride Along" features comic book scribe Warren Ellis appears as himself, having finagled his way into riding with Detective Walker.  It's a throwaway story so far as Powers is concerned, but it's amusing nonetheless as Ellis carries on about comic books as a medium and superheroes as a genre.  Some fans are bothered by the fact that it was published in issue 7, but appears here after the "Groupies" story from issues 12-14.  I personally feel that it works well here.  It would have seemed too lighthearted a coda for the first collected edition, and too disconnected from the second.  It works better here, and I think it works better after, rather than before, "Groupies."

"The Shark," originally published in Powers Annual #1, finds Detectives Walker and Pilgrim investigating the Shark, a man with superpowers found crying over the body of a man with whom he had been fighting on a roof.  The Shark insists the man slipped, but the investigation reveals an unexpected relationship between the two.  This story is structured like an episode of Law & Order, and to emphasize the narrative template, the second half is presented to us in the form of a court transcript with a handful of sketches like one sees from a trial where cameras are banned.

The Powers Coloring and Activity Book is a playful spin on the classic children's activity book concept adapted for the Powers world.  It's got everything from a word search to connect-the-dots, though I still cannot tell you which Zora is different from the other five.  "Mall Outing" from Jinx True Crime Confessions follows.  It's not Powers-related, but is included because it was the first ever Bendis/Oeming collaboration.  Little Deaths concludes with excerpts from an interview with Bendis, along with a cover gallery and a handful of Oeming's sketches.

I really liked Little Deaths, perhaps because it's an anthology.  I liked that Walker and Deena were shown largely just doing their job without much exposition to develop their characters.  They pretty much know who they are at this point, and so do we, so it was nice to just let them work.  I do have two complaints, though.  Firstly, there are a handful of two-page layouts and I wasn't clear whether to read all the way across both pages or not.  There are some cases where two pages appear to be one, but aren't, so it can be confusing.  In the original issues, there would have been ads to break up these pages and eliminate any confusion, but in the collected edition each page goes onto the next.

The greater problem, though, has to be the bad spelling and grammar throughout.  Whether this is the fault of Bendis, the typographers or editor K.C. McCrory I don't know, but these infractions are glaring and distracting.  For a reader like myself, they even diminish the work at hand in some ways.  I can forgive character dialog breaking rules of grammar, of course, but there's no excuse for the spelling.  On page 7 of "The Shark" court transcript, for instance, we find the line, "And he went to jail because of you're timely efforts."  "You're?"  Really?

Bendis has a strong sense of pace and detail, and I really do think he's a very creative writer, but these shortcomings cast a pall over my assessment of him.  I am often tempted to un-friend people on Facebook for their frequent misspellings; I am incapable of tolerating these instances from a professional writer in a published work.

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