Star power is the most effective marketing tool a writer or an artist has these days in the field of comics. The marketplace struggles to come up with new ideas (or effectively regurgitate variations on old ones). As a writer or as an artist, you need to make a name for yourself by doing something in the field no one else has done before. Very few people have such distinctive voices that you can immediately identify them by their stylistic touches. Bendis is one of those few people. Ironically though, he cribbed (or did variations on) his particular brand of dialogue writing from David Mamet. Not that this is necessarily bad. By all means, Mamet’s style of writing is infectiously fast-paced and rhythmic but falls into the pattern of “question-question as an answer-repeat”. It’s just that Bendis hasn’t really made any strong variations on that formula in the 10+ years he’s been writing. It gets very predictable structurally when you can spot on predict the way the whole 6 issue arc is going to pan out – down to the very last beat.
From what I can gather, Powers – The Bureau #9 is, without fail, another bout of the same thing. It’s not terrible, but structurally, and with a lick of sense, you could figure out how the rest of this series is going to play out.
Now, I love Powers. It’s one of those things that made me like western comics after years of fetishizing the so-called greatness of “manga” (there is great manga out there, but it’s so few and far between and what people will lap up these days is sickening, but that’s another topic for another day), but it has gotten itself stuck in this rut I’ve been talking up. You have the classic interrogation scene where Deena says something determinedly foul but intrinsically funny. It has the double page spreads beautifully illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming showcasing some new element of Walker’s past that we didn’t know about but have heard remnants of. And inevitably, there are revelations involved. Powers is formulaic, but we love it anyways, because it’s an example of a good Bendis comic. And this is an era when his output hasn’t been as strong as it once was.
On the other end of the spectrum, Oeming may have borrowed/cribbed/developed his style from Bruce Timm, but he’s “evolved” so to speak beyond that (I hate to say evolved because it implies Timm’s style is rudimentarily crude, when in fact Timm is better than Oeming, objectivity be damned). Oeming’s stuff is very much rooted in that cartoonish style but his figures and backgrounds are more angular, a little more restricted in terms of movement. Double page spreads are laid out and figured in a diagonal motion. Debris flies at an angle. Characters look down on each other from a side view. Oeming’s stuff very much fits in a structural procedure but there are enough variations on it to keep it from getting too repetitive. There’s even a double page spread where Oeming mixes his style with a Liefeldian approach and it is appropriately and thematically hilarious.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Nick Filardi’s coloring. From the stark red Deena on the cover offset by various shades of grey and black to the dimly green-lit interrogation scenes, Filardi covers a whole range of colors on the spectrum. His work breathes extra life into the fight scenes and gives every little detail its own clear-cut, vibrant demarcation. Too often the coloring goes unmentioned in comics, and I feel part of the reason for that is that there aren’t enough good colorists out there and the ones that are good are spread too thin (just look at how many books Jordie Bellaire is on every month). Filardi is one of those rare colorists whose work looks like the gold standard but it does the gold standard so much better than everyone else.
So yes, the book is stuck in a structural rut and is formulaic at times but that’s offset by just how good of a story it tells. Even with all the delays (4 or 5 months between this issue and the last) and after all these years, I am still invested in the work of Powers partly out of nostalgia, and partly because it’s just a fun, simple story. It doesn’t strive to be anything more than it needs to be. It’s just cops and feds taking down super-powered cases. It’s been following the same premise and structure for over a decade and it still works. Powers – The Bureau #9 isn’t perfect by any means, and it feels stuck, but it still glimmers with its strengths.
My Score: 3.5/5