Sunday, August 19, 2007

Powers, Vol. 7: Forever by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming

This is the seventh collection of the cops-in-a-superhero-world series Powers, always written by Bendis and illustrated by Oeming, and it's the one that reveals a lot of big secrets. Our ex-powers cop, Christian Walker, finally gets his Secret Origin here, which comes complete with a deadly supervillain.

On the other hand, it also comes with hot monkey this is still quirky, even as it runs ever closer to standard superheroics.

It's one of those let's-cover-the-whole-history-of-the-universe stories, starting with, yes, a bunch of anthropoid apes, and running through Conan-esque ahistorical barbarians, a version of Shangri-La, '30s gangsters, and hot '80s threesomes before it finally gets back to the existing Powers plotline. We learn that Christian Walker is older than the human race, and somehow turned human in between issues (or has been repeatedly reincarnated as exactly the same person with exactly the same abilities -- except for the fact that, at least once, he was a monkey -- which is, for me, even harder to believe). And his great nemesis was also a monkey, and has turned up now and then to mess up Walker's life for no reason either of them can remember. (There's a strong sense of pointlessness to their great rivalry, which I hope Bendis intended; neither of them has done terribly much with multi-thousand-year lives except hit each other every so often.)

This storyline wants to be wicked cool (immortals battling through the ages! superpower-destruction machines! vast spans of time!) and adult (world-weary immortals! the infinite sadness of existence as a god among men!), but it really raises more questions about this world than it's prepared to answer. I thought we just found out, in the last volume, that the Superman-ripoff was the vastly most powerful super in this world, with an origin shrouded in ancient mystery -- but, now, we learn that the rivalry between Red Stripe and White Stripe (Walker) is equally ancient, and they were both equally invulnerable? And many (most?) Powers are effectively immortal? And yet this world has a history the same as our own? (I, frankly, can't buy that -- comic-book-style super-powered immortals, running around for the last few thousand years, would have changed everything.) I also find the apparent unkillability of the major Powers in this storyline hard to square with the carnage among Powers in the earlier collections.

So Bendis has now ripped out by the roots everything that made his Powers universe plausible and special -- the street-level viewpoint, the focus on the modern day, and the ordinariness of his protagonists -- and replaced them with standard-issue superhero-universe furniture. The story here is well-told, but I'm not impressed by the switch. I expect Walker will get some level of powers back -- probably "erratic," so he can't count on them -- in the next book or soon thereafter.

I still like the idea of Powers, and some of the actuality of it, but the more it turns into a Marvel Comics title with the serial numbers filed off, the less I'm interested in it. I'll have to poke through volume 8 (which collected the "re-launch," under a Marvel imprint, a few years back) in a story before I decide if I want to read it.

(I covered Powers, Vol. 6 as part of my list of books read in June, and Vol. 5 had its own entry. Earlier volumes are linked back from those entries, if anyone wants to head backwards that far.)

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