This review of Powers: The Secret History of Deena Pilgrim by Neil Kleid and Brian Michael Bendis was written in 2016 for the British Science Fiction Association‘s magazine, Vector.
Titan Books, 2016, Paperback, 320pp, £7.99, ISBN 9781785651281
So, Powers, right?
Brian Michael Bendis’ breakout comic hit with Mike Oeming?
The one with all the dialogue? The police procedural with superheroes?
That one. Quick-fire. Smart alec. Fresh. Fresh and all swear-y as hell.
But this one has no pictures? And it’s written with this Kleid guy. How does that work?
Guy’s got a story to tell.
Deena Pilgrim, main character in the comics. First time in the comics was her first day in the new job.
This book looks at her past.
It’s all interwoven, past and present. You know how these novelists love that. But it’s all ret-conned, too. You know how comics guys love that. Captain America guy is murdered. Everyone’s sad. Until they find out he was a closet fascist.
Harsh is right. Everyone else is a no-good lying sonofabitch, too. Except the good guys. But they get blown up.
Blown up like, exploded blown up?
Yeah, not the good kind of exploded. Don’t worry, they’re all fine. You get exploded-blown up here, two hours in hospital and you’re fine again.
How does that work?
Can we recap? Captain America’s a fascist?
He’s the Citizen Solider here, but yeah.
And he’s murdered?
He’s old. He’s tired. He’s done.
And the cops are after his killer?
They are, but there’s a lot of water under the bridge. Everyone’s got their ambiguities, right?
Ambiguities. No one’s who or what you think.
Yeah. Trickier than it needs to be.
Let’s just say the writer’s been let off the comic leash.
There’s a leash?
You gotta paint the story with words, it’s different to a comic. Ask Warren Ellis, that guy knows. Novel needs words, lots of words; words you wouldn’t need in a comic. They…clog things.
Clogs? Like little wooden shoes?
Clogs like cholesterol, like blockage. The story doesn’t flow like the comics do, it chokes. In the comics you see the quick-fire banter between Deena and Walker, her partner – you can literally see it on the page. It’s a beautiful thing. Bendis is famous for it.
So, this Kleid guy…?
It ain’t his fault. Banter gets smeared across the page, lost in the verbiage.
Poor guy. So why make it a novel? Why ditch the “graphic” part?
That’s the question.
And the answer?
You got me.
You gonna read the next one?
I ain’t gonna read the next one. Stick to the comics.