What happens when superheroes collide with the cop show? Stephen Jewell walks the Powers beat…
We went back in time and had monkeys fucking at the dawn of man,” smiles Brian Michael Bendis. “And they’re going to do their own thing…”
The acclaimed comics writer is telling SFX how the PlayStation Network’s forthcoming adaptation of his and Michael Avon Oeming’s creator- owned series Powers might just differ from its four- colour incarnation. But while there may not be any fornicating primates on the screen – at least, for now – Bendis says showrunner Charlie Huston is staying true to the high- concept premise of a pair of homicide detectives investigating superhero- related crimes.
“What Charlie has done is cherrypick elements of the comic series to craft his own thing,” says Bendis. “What I hope happens – and is already happening behind the scenes – is that the Powers TV show creates its own mythology and goes off on its own way to the comic.”
First published by Image Comics in 2000 before moving to Marvel’s boutique Icon imprint in 2004, Powers proved to be the Portland- based author’s calling card. Going on to become one of the House of Ideas’ leading architects, he has since enjoyed long runs on titles such as Avengers, All- New X- Men and
Guardians Of The Galaxy. However, Powers’ path to the screen has not been so smooth. Optioned for the cinema by Sony Pictures in 2001, it was eventually decided that TV would be a better fit with FX and Sony Pictures Television teaming up to shoot a pilot starring Jason Patric and Lucy Punch.
With Bendis conceding that “it was all about the chemistry,” FX then decided not to proceed any further, allowing the PlayStation Network to pick up the baton, ordering a tenepisode run and appointing thriller author Charlie Huston as showrunner and Falling
Skies’s Remy Aubuchon as executive producer. “Charlie was in the writers’ room for the FX series and he wrote a script, which I and everybody involved uniformly pointed to and said, ‘ Now, that is Powers!’” recalls Bendis. “It was funny and dark and did everything that I wanted the show to do.” Having written the likes of Wolverine and
Moon Knight for Marvel, Huston is well versed in the comic book medium. “Like myself, he is a crime writer who happens to completely understand the genre of superheroes and that’s what was needed for the TV show,” says Bendis. “As anyone who loves the genre will tell you, it has to be in your blood. You can’t just come in and make your way in it; you have to have it in you at a cellular level.”
Just as Robert Kirkman has taken a hands- on approach with The Walking Dead, Bendis has been closely involved with every step of Powers’ production. “I’m graciously holding onto Robert’s zombielike coattails as we move forward,” laughs Bendis, who acts as an executive producer and will co- write the finale with Huston. “It’s Charlie’s show but because I’m also a writer and one of the creators, I was there during the first weeks of the writers’ room in LA It was cool because one of the few things I know all the answers to is Powers, so when people ask me about it, I sound like a genius.”
Crucially, he also participated in the casting process. “It’s true with any show, but especially true with genre mash- ups like this, that the actors become their own version of the characters and are not just reading lines from the comic book. I wanted to keep the spirit of the characters from the comic but I wanted them to become their own thing.
“the super hero genre has to be in your blood”
I always cite Dexter as my inspiration here – the original novels and the show were like parallel universes examining the same thing, and that’s what I wanted with this. With that mandate, we went looking and I’m very happy that we’ve got someone with the calibre of Sharlto Copley ( District 9) on board as he’s bringing all kinds of new energy to Walker. He’s got the poise of someone who used to be a superhero.”
While Copley’s casting has met with almost universal approval, there has been some fan disquiet after African- American actress Susan Heywood landed the part of the formerly blonde Deena. “There are some characters like Callista, where the actress ( Olesya Rulin) looks exactly like a Mike Oeming cartoon, but that was a happy accident,” reasons Bendis. “When you see Sharlto and Susan together, they look like Walker and Deena in their own way. It doesn’t take you much to get there because no one in the world looks like Walker does in the comic. If someone who looked like that walked into the room, you’d scream!”
With Noah Taylor and Eddie Izzard playing the villainous Johnny Royale and “Big Bad” Wolfe respectively, Michelle Forbes ( Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: The Next Generation) won the crucial part of archetypal superheroine Retro Girl. Though her death formed the basis of the inaugural Powers comics arc, viewers will be given the chance to get to know her properly. “For people who read the books, it’s nice that they don’t know what’s going to happen as our first storyline isn’t ‘ Who Killed Retro Girl?’,” explains Bendis. “Mike and I did that because we didn’t think we’d get to the third issue. We thought we’d get cancelled so we’d better run it quick. If we were to do it all over again, I’d do it like this.”
Praising Huston for “coming up with a way to give Mike, as the artist, a voice on the show,” Bendis stresses that Oeming’s angular, Manga- esque style is also represented in Retro Girl’s distinctive design. “She’s our big hero and is like our Beyoncé of superheroes,” he explains. “But unlike in the comic book, she’s not dead at the start of the series so we get to see that she’s been around for a very long time. We also see all of her marketing including this cartoon show that has been on the air for decades. The look of that show and all the merchandising is all in the look of Mike’s artwork. That seems unique and exciting to me because that’s one of the things that always ends up going by the wayside in these adaptations. Even in Watchmen, you don’t feel Dave Gibbons other than in the costumes because it’s live action, it’s not a cartoon.”
One aspect Powers does share with the movie version of that revisionist superhero opus is its unflinching adult tone, setting it apart from the likes of Arrow and, dare we say it, Gotham. Having provided one of the initial influences for Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka’s DC Comics police procedural Gotham Central, from which Fox’s Batman prequel is derived, it seems unfortunate timing that Powers has been beaten to the TV screen. However, Bendis is confident that the two shows are very different beasts.
“Almost every ten minutes you’ll see something that you will never see on network TV,” he says. “There’s something that happens in our first five minutes of the first episode where you will go, ‘ You will never see that on Gotham!’” Powers will be shown in the UK on the PlayStation Network.
Retro Girl doesn’t start off dead in the series. But she might well get there.
Deena wonders why she has to be the halitosis assessor.
Pilgrim and Walker’s on- page look differs just slightly from the screen. Modern graffiti artists dodge the law by affecting a more dapper appearance.
Brightly coloured duct tape is the new thing on the Paris runways.