Review by Frank Plowright
Powers began as a series featuring two police detectives, Deena Pilgrim and Christian Walker, operating in a world where super powers are hardly unknown, but story arc by story arc Brian Michael Bendis has expanded their world. It’s better than repeating the same scenarios, but once all-powerful aliens and other-dimensional demons have manifested on the police beat, it’s difficult to put that genie back in the bottle, and it particularly affects the first of two stories here.
As Secret Identity begins, what readers really wanted was to have the consequences of what we saw in Book Four play out. Instead we’re given a plot where a superhero team turns out to have a member who can do almost anything, and that’s mixed with people from the previous story, to whom much the same applies. They don’t dominate, but their continued presence is enough to have more astute readers asking if they can do A, why aren’t they doing B? Plus there’s at least one incident passed off with a lazy explanation. Thankfully there are enough distractions to make things worthwhile, with both starring characters on fine form considering what’s been revealed about them, and Michael Avon Oeming’s art again modified. He’s not returned to the cramped panels that started the series, but has returned the shadows to the art, using a lot of black in the knowledge that a single colour from Peter Pantazis will really stand out on the page.
If there are reservations about the first story, the second ranks among the best of Powers, this despite the trade being titled The 25 Coolest Dead Superheroes of All Time. It’s intended as pastiche, and in-story is the title of a high school assignment, but the title’s ragged sensationalism hasn’t aged well. It picks up eight months later, with Pilgrim missing and the police department having an acute interest as to why that’s the case. Not that they haven’t other matters to occupy them, what with all sorts of people acquiring super powers, almost all used for personal advantage.
What makes this so successful is that it’s a return to basics. There are no omnipotent intrusions, just three investigations very satisfyingly weaved together, with an emphasis on character beats, effective surprises and some horrific incidents. Oeming just about makes the right call with these. They need to be shown to generate the horrified response, yet in almost every case he applies restraint. This colouring is down to Nick Filardi, who’s equally intuitive when it comes to what should be emphasised. The increasing use of a pale blue indicating the use of super powers is especially well chosen.
The horror is kept simmering, there’s an entertaining trip back to the past, the epilogue conversation is beautifully pitched, and that’s followed by a fine melodramatic moment of tension. Very satisfying. However, where does it leave our detectives for Book Six?
This package was previously issued in hardback as Vol. 5 of Powers: The Definitive Hardcover Collection.