Story: Homicide detective Christian Walker specializes in cases involving the superpowered individuals that operate in the city. His new partner, Deena Pilgrim, is eager to work with Walker – and just as eager to learn what secrets he may be hiding. As the two get to know each other, they must solve the murder of one of the city’s most popular heroes amidst growing media scrutiny and take care of a child Walker rescued from a hostage situation.
Review: This is a book that clicks on all cylinders, with excellent dialogue, evocative art and crisp plotting. The story opens with homicide Detective Christian Walker being called into a hostage negotiation – the guy holding the hostage has powers, and he asked for Walker specifically. The pacing and dialogue in this opening scene are excellent. The build-up of tension is great, Walker really shines as a tough cop who can nonetheless empathize with a guy who’s so at the end of his rope that he’s ready to do something desperate and foolish, and the little asides between the cops have a world-weary wit about them.
The first chapter moves from introductions to the case at hand, and Bendis shows why it’s not an easy case to solve. The medical examiner can’t tell the detectives anything, since he has no context in which to place anything he learns from the autopsy. (I love the M.E., by the way – he’s a great character, and his exchanges with Walker and Pilgrim are some of the most powerful in the book.) The rest of the powered community has little to offer, either, and the cops’ best clue comes mysteriously from the little girl Walker rescued from the hostage scene. The investigation continues as media scrutiny builds, with each inch of progress painfully fought for and dead ends aplenty; the plot never drags while characters and settings are introduced and explored. The tensions and rivalries between the cops are handled as well as I’ve ever seen the subject depicted in any medium. When the solution finally does come, it does so with some satisfying twists that may hint at stories down the road or that may always remain mysteries, and that in either case deliver an additional emotional punch that shows there’s more to Powers than snappy dialogue and a clever premise – there’s plenty of heart as well.
The artwork is very simple but very good. It looks a lot like the style associated with the Paul Dini-Bruce Timm DC animated series without being derivative, and the use of shadows and colors to set the mood and tone is very effective. There’s a rough, unfinished feel to the art that makes it perfect for this type of story, but it’s also clear and attractive enough not to turn anyone off. And his character designs are top-notch. I especially liked Retro Girl, who evoked the era of clean-cut do-gooders so well that you can understand why she was so loved and why her loss was felt so strongly by the people of the city and the powered community. Oeming also does a good job of conveying a lot of information in his character expressions and in his panel layouts, although some of those layouts can be confusing – a couple of times I read the left page of a spread in its entirety before reading the right page, when I should have taken in the whole spread as one large page. I don’t mind that at all – it just tells me I have to read more carefully, which is not something I mind saying about a comic.
The collected version of Who Killed Retro Girl? also contains character sketches by Oeming, a cover gallery, the full script to issue 1 so that you can see what Bendis gave Oeming to work with, and a collection of strips that ran in Comic Shop News to promote the series. It’s a nice package, and well worth checking out.
Author: Brian Michael Bendis
Illustrator: Michael Avon Oeming
Genre: Crime Fiction / Superhero
Length: 120 pages
Publisher: Oni Press