I’m taking a one-week break from my look at Amazing’s full first year. I hope you don’t mind; I like to change things up a bit now and again. I’ll come back and finish that series next week, I promise!
Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s comic book, Powers, has been around since 2000, but until yesterday I’d never read it or, indeed, heard of it. It’s drawn in one of those trendy cartoony styles (like some of the TV cartoons—Superman, Justice League, etc.—that’s kind of stylized and minimalist, but don’t really attract me. Because I grew up in a different era, where comics were more “realistic” (if you can attach that word to a cartoon), I tend to look at the art first and the story second—so I tend to read comics with more traditional styles. But now I’m aware of it with a vengeance; the comic won an Eisner Award in 2001, and the writer (Bendis) has won two Eisners himself! I first became aware of Powers in an email sent to me from the Sony Playstation Network yesterday (Tuesday). I was intrigued enough to watch Episode One, since a link was provided in the email. (That link appears not to work today, Wednesday. I guess I should fire up the ol’ PS3!)
Anyhow, Powers appears to be somewhat similar to Heroes (2006-2010), in that ordinary people can suddenly discover they have… uh, powers. Set in modern-day Los Angeles with a difference: at any moment you might hear a sonic boom from a Power (as people with powers are referred to in general) or see a Hero and a bad Power battle it out in the sky. Rather than a rag-tag ensemble cast of protagonists like Heroes—if you’ll recall, they had Claire (the cheerleader), Hiro (the nerd), Peter (the EMT and Congressman’s brother), Matt (the cop), Mohinder (the scientist) and Niki/Jessica (the twins in one body) just as the main protagonists. The list of antagonists (like Sylar and Claire’s father and Nathan Petrelli and, and) as well as the list of secondary “good guy” characters could have been truly bewildering; but for at least the first two seasons it was one of the best genre series on TV. Until they lost their way and started groping in the dark, trying to figure out what they were trying to say. The plots and episodes grew dumber and more opaque until, by the end, only the die-hard fans watched the final episodes of Season 4. I confess I didn’t watch the last four or five episodes.
I’ve been looking for a replacement; non-“reality” TV (whether genre or near-genre) that isn’t a soap opera, that has smart characters and writing, that has interesting plots and is written for adults. (Too often when the advisory before the program warns you that the “following program may contain nudity, strong language, sexuality and adult situations” they are talking more about stuff teenagers would find interesting, than grownups, if you catch my drift. “Adult” here means more “sexy” (or stupid, if it’s a comedy) than “grownup.” Smallville held my interest for a while, but never really fulfilled its promise. My latest hope—until this showed up—was Gotham, which is really coming along nicely. If Powers continues to develop from this episode, I could become a real fan. But they have a few obstacles to overcome.
As I said, Powers is set in LA; the protagonist, Christian Walker (Sharlto Copley) is an LAPD detective who works in the “Powers Division”—a division which is, he says, chronically underfunded (though, why? If you’re trying to arrest superpowered villains, wouldn’t you want your officers to have the latest and best equipment? I mean, c’mon, Podunk PD can get tanks from Homeland Security—and LAPD can’t afford new equipment for its most at-risk division?) and apparently disregarded by other LAPD cops. They have no high-tech anti-Powers equipment, for the most part.
When Walker’s partner is killed during a Powers bust (they forgot to trank him enough and he broke loose) he is assigned a new partner Deena Pilgrim (Susan Heyward) who tells him she chose to join the Powers Division to work with him. The LAPD also has an underground prison (half a kilometer) where the most dangerous and recalcitrant Powers—like Wolfe (Eddie Izzard), Walker’s old mentor, are housed.
Did I forget to tell you that Walker used to be a Power? Well, worry not—I think they must have told us six or seven times during this episode; one of the problems the show will have to overcome is overexplaining stuff. “Didn’t you used to be a Power?” Look, you’re on the PLAYSTATION Network—your watchers will already know a lot of what you’re explaining to them! (And you also have to pass an age check to watch this: there are a lot of explicit words and situations used here.) Gamers are often comic readers and are usually pretty savvy. Anyway, a Power named Wolfe, who used to be Walker’s—who used to be called Diamond—mentor and friend, took Walker’s powers away just before being captured.
One of the reasons I have hopes for this series is that this series touches on real-world-type reactions to having superpowered types around; because as Walker says to one of the young Powers, “You don’t always make the right decision; people get hurt, and you will have to live with that.” The older Powers grew up (Walker got his at 17) wanting to be superheroes; the newer ones are more interested in fame, sex, money and drugs—the perks they see as inherent in having powers. But some of the older Powers are getting tired of the hero routine and want the same things as the younger folk—and some are just plain going crazy. It’s possible these powers come with a healthy dose of potential psychosis.
Our main character is played by Sharlto Copley—a South African actor whose first movie, District 9, made a pretty good splash in the SF/F community: first, by being acted by a whole cast of unknowns; secondly, by being cleverly written and acted, with seamless CGI effects, and thirdly, for delivering on a true SF plot, with alien refugees being treated to the South African alien version of apartheid, being called “prawns” and kept in squalid refugee camps. For this movie, Copley delivers a solid American accent—as most British and Australia/New Zealand actors already seem to, so we can now add South Africa to that list—and a performance that, while somewhat morose (the character, not the actor), promises more solid performances to come. (Copley has also recently been seen in Matt Damon’s Elysium, Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent and Liam Neeson’s The A-Team. He’s become a pretty high-profile actor in genre/action movies all of a sudden.)
I’m liking Susan Heyward as Deena Pilgrim; again, I’ve never read the comic, so I’m not wedded to the idea that Pilgrim is white. I’m not familiar with her work; she’s mostly been in TV series I haven’t watched (The Following, 666 Park Avenue, 30 Rock, Law & Order, etc.), but I’m liking the interaction between her—as Walker’s new partner—and the older cop. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Michelle Forbes as Retro Girl, too. Forbes makes what amounts to a cameo appearance in this episode. Retro Girl is, at this point, one of the most famous Powers; she’s also Diamond’s ex-girlfriend. (Diamond, as you recall, is who Walker used to be.) I’m also enjoying the way the wannabes and young Powers are “parading the strip” and showing off their homemade uniforms and nascent or undeveloped abilities. If they do it right, this show could be a winner.
Well, interesting. According to both the email I got from Sony Entertainment and the Sony site itself, I should be able to access the first season for free with a Playstation Plus membership. So I bought a month’s membership for $9.99 and lo! Nothing. Nada. Zip. Bupkis. And contacting Customer Support through either Sony’s site or the PS3 itself just takes you ‘round and ‘round in circles (like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, as the song says). So maybe by this time next week I’ll have good news for you on the rest of Season 1. You can take an “inside look” at the episode here.
If you can, please comment on this week’s column. If you haven’t already registered—it’s free, and just takes a moment—register, then you can comment here. Or comment on my Facebook page, or in the several Facebook groups where I publish a link to this column. I might not agree with your comments, but they’re all welcome. I often learn stuff I didn’t know that way—and don’t feel you have to agree with me to post a comment! My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other bloggers. See you next week!