Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Marvel Unbound - Powers: The Definitive Hardcover Collection, Volume 1

David Price and I have been talking about adding a feature to the Marvel Noise podcast that centers around reviews of collected editions -- be they trade paperbacks or hardcover collections. episode 34, released today, contains the first segment of what we're calling "Marvel Unbound". Here on Random Thoughts Escaping is a written approximation of my contribution to the podcast. Enjoy!

I've become a pretty big Brian Michael Bendis fan over the last year or so. I have really enjoyed what he's done with the Avengers titles, I liked what he did with Secret War, and I love what he is doing with Marvel's 2008 tent pole event Secret Invasion. I just recently finished reading volume one of Powers: The Definitive Hardcover Collection. Now, I know I'm a little late in finding a seat at the Powers table, but I think it is still worth talking about because I haven't heard much chatter about the title on the Marvel Noise forum or much mention on the podcast.

What Bendis and artist Mike Avon Oeming have put together with Powers is pretty cool. I love the art, the pop culture references, the Northeast Ohio shout-outs, the humor, and especially the stories. This book delivers a nice, layered narrative that has me dying for Volume 2 to be released next month.

Covering two arcs and a one-shot, the Hardcover Collection collects the first third of the title's run at Image Comics, before jumping over to launch Marvel's creator-owned Icon line following issue #37. The title is anchored by Christian Walker, a square-jawed homicide detective, and his new partner, Deena Pilgrim. Similar to Alan Moore's Watchmen or Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross' Marvels, Powers explores a world that is shared with "Powers" -- what they refer to superheroes as in this universe -- from the human point of view.

Spoiler-free as far as content goes, the first story arc is centered on the death of Retro Girl, one of the "Powers" of The City. It does a great job of introducing characters and plugging humor into just the right spots when the tension is wound too tight. The second arc in the collection, "Role Play", focuses on some college kids who run around dressed up as "Powers" pretenders, an illegal act in the Powers world, and are being bumped off.

Sandwiched between these two arcs is issue #7, "Ride-Along", a one-shot that was the least satisfying of the bunch for me. It felt like a vanity piece or a 25-page inside joke that I just didn't get. Comic scribe and socio-cultural commentator extraordinaire Warren Ellis does more than just cameo in this issue, he takes a lead role in the story through Bendis' extensive use of Ellis quotes.

Regardless of that issue, the stories are well-paced, building tension and keeping the reader engaged. Unlike the way Invincible handled the major plot turn in its first arc, which was out of left field and ignored a fertile father-son/family dynamic that could have been mined for years if properly advanced, Bendis' reveals of Walker's past are more of a slow-burn approach which keeps me wanting more.

For some reason, The Definitive Hardcover Collection, Volume 1 is hard to find and the secondary market prices are ridiculous. I assume it's out of print at the moment, but hopefully they will be releasing another printing when Volume 2 comes out later this year. While the supplemental materials included in the Hardcover Collection are good, these arcs are readily available in trade paperback format with extras of their own. The individual arcs can be found in the Who Killed Retro Girl? and Role Play trades, and the single-issue stand-alone is collected in the Little Deaths trade. Regardless of how you track these down, they are definitely worth your time!

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