Sunday, May 9, 2010

Recent Comics Cavalcade, Part One

So as I mentioned before, I've been reviewing comics for ages now in private, for friends. And while I'm not going to go back and excavate four years' worth of reviews, I did think I might hit the highlights of the stuff I've been talking about so far this year, the comics that have really blown me away of late. I guess I'll start with the return of one of my all-time favorite series, Powers...

Powers vol. 3, #1-4
by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming

As with the previous volumes, the Powers status quo has changed for the third series. Deena Pilgrim's been paid off to leave the force in the wake of her actions hunting down the Powers Killer in series two. Christian Walker is now something of a pariah amongst his fellow detectives, possibly because of what Deena did, but also possibly because of the widespread belief that he has powers again. Which is true, but not in the way people think: he's a cosmic cop (ala Green Lantern), and can only use his new powers in defending the Earth from alien invasion. Walker's also got a new partner, a detective with the absolutely terrible Dickensian name of Enki Sunrise. She's more or less unlikeable, and may be spying on Walker for Internal Affairs. Walker also has a new girlfriend, a nice normal lady by the name of Heather, who (it seems) is becoming less normal through her contact with Walker.

But the series' premise remains the same: the investigation of Powers-related homicides. Their first case in the new series is the murder of Z, this world's version of Frank Sinatra. Back in the 50s and early 60s, Z and his Powers Rat Pack pretty much ran Vegas. And the Dean Martin of this little group? One Christian Walker. This is from the period of Walker's long, long life when he was known as Blue Streak. He was a bit of an asshole. Anyway. Z is dead, and Our Heroes have to find out who killed him.

That involves a mob family Z was involved with (in the Biblical sense), but it also involves stirring up a lot of uncomfortable memories for Walker. Memories of the high times of World War II, when having powers meant you could save the world, and memories of the years that followed, when war heroes found themselves at loose ends, unsure of what to do next but pretty damn sure that the world owed them a debt it wasn't paying off. It's another finely-crafted piece of the puzzle of Walker's past, shedding new light on why he was so desperate to be rid of his powers, and why he was so eager to get them back when the opportunity arose. This is Bendis at his best, exploiting the long-form storytelling that serial comics provide to paint a subtle and nuanced portrait of his characters.

Mike Oeming has been turning in stellar work in the new series as well. I've said before that Alex Maleev is perhaps Bendis' best artistic collaborator, since their approaches to page design are so similar. But Oeming's Powers work sort of puts the lie to that, by being so far removed from Bendis' very tight and structured pages. Oeming's work is incredibly open and kinetic, sprawling across the pages and never letting the camera rest for too long. Though his linework has become rougher and thicker over the years, his figures sometimes a bit looser than perhaps they should, Oeming's layouts have gotten better and better, fearlessly stacking panels in attractive arrangements that always flow and use black space to their advantage. The two-page spread of Walker and his girlfriend Heather having sex in the first issue of this series is pretty stunning, with a series of tiny tight close-ups careening across the pages like a jagged film strip, bouncing from corner to corner until finally exploding in a big panel as Heather climaxes in the bottom right-hand corner. Amazing, confident stuff.

And there's more going on with this sex stuff than just some soft-core funnybook porn. It's been established that sex with a Power has some incredible side effects. There's a surge of energy at the moment of climax that's apparently very pleasurable, and that sometimes temporarily imparts powers to their partners. And it's never been said outright, but I'm beginning to think it's somewhat addictive, as well. We've seen more than one person ruin their lives for Powers sex, and Heather's been acting strange in her encounters with Walker, too. She keeps getting glimpses of his past, for one thing, seeing lives that he doesn't even remember living anymore. Plus, she cries after sex, for reasons that we (and apparently Walker) don't yet understand. All of which goes a bit beyond what I was planning to discuss with this review, but ah well. It's an important sub-plot, and one of the series' more fascinating undercurrents. So I'm hardly going off-topic.
So. In spite of a couple of weak moments early in the first issue, the launch of Powers Series 3 has been a rollicking success. Still one of comics' best series more than ten years after its launch, Powers is amazing stuff, and one of the reasons I still read funnybooks.
Grade: A

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