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Powers Anniversary Special

It wasn't until long after I'd left the shop this week that I realised that three out of the four books I was buying were written (or co-written) by Brian Bendis. And the other one was something he used to write. Seems like the bald one is back on form a bit, after a lacklustre year or so. New Avengers seems to have wiped clean the bad memories of Avengers Disassembled (probably the one truly cack note of his recent career), Ultimate Spider-Man is showing signs of finally having awoken from its slump, and for this 64-page "anniversary special" he's turned in the best issue of Powers in quite some time.

And when an issue of Powers is described as particularly good, you know you're dealing with something special. It's hard to believe it's only 50 issues old, as it feels like it's been around a lot longer than that. And for nearly all that time, with the odd dip around the time of the fourth and fifth story arcs, it's remained consistently among the best comics it's possible to buy. It's the sort of book whose arrival on the racks doesn't tend to go massively heralded, but that you know you have to buy the second you see there's a new issue out. And then read it before you read anything else.

Technically, I guess this is a spoiler. Ah well, you probably weren't going to read the issue anyway. At least it's got swearing in it, though.
A scan from Powers volume 2, issue #12. Art by Mike Avon Oeming, dialogue by Brian Michael Bendis. Copyright Marvel Comics 2005.

Anyway, on to the issue itself. There's been a dark undercurrent building in this book for a while, culminating in the shocking events of last issue where the newly-powered Deena self-defensively killed her psycho ex-boyfriend and was forced to deal with the body and the internal consequences. That story takes a backseat for much of this issue, though; but the character of Deena most decidedly doesn't. Once again, she's pretty much the entire focus of the book, with Christian (aside from a nice flashback cameo as Diamond) left to be Mr. Exposition. You can hardly blame Bendis for this - he told all it was possible to tell about Walker in the brilliant Forever arc, while there are a lot of layers to Deena that we know little about (that said, whenever you're in the middle of a load of Walker issues, you want more of Deena; and when you're in the middle of a load of Deena issues, you want more of Walker - this is how good these two characters are). In this issue, for the first time we get to see Deena's career before she teamed up with Walker, and the flashback scenes are probably the most entertaining part of the issue. Deena is one of the strongest-voiced characters in comics today, and even when showing her as a somewhat green rookie cop you still get a strong feel of the same character underneath.

The main storyarc of the last half-dozen issues is wrapped up here, and I must admit that with the gaps that there have been between issues I found it a little difficult to keep up with who exactly it was that was supposed to have done what. But this is made up for by the closing scenes with the killer, whose speech is among the best passages of dialogue that Bendis has written in some time - not to mention the resonance that it has with the current underlying storyline.

Elsewhere, there are some lovely touches - as usual - such as the shopkeeper's flashback showing Emilio as the fat kid he remembers from years before rather than the fat teen he is when Pilgrim catches up with him, and it's always chilling to see Supershock show up in flashbacks, in full-on friendly Superman mode (for non-regular readers, Supershock was the most powerful hero in the Powers world, "the guy we named superheroes after" - until he went absolutely nuts, among other things burning down the Vatican, obliterating Baghdad and offing his old teammates). Oeming's art is as brilliant as it always is - it's an acquired taste, but when you immerse yourself in the world of Powers it always fits perfectly - and the colouring this issue was beautifully atmospheric, possibly the best I've ever seen on this title. And the Deena cover, drawn by Bendis, is superb (there's another cover, by Oeming, of Christian - and the two slot together side by side to make up one image). While not for the faint of heart, this is absolutely top-notch comics craft all round. A+

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