Powers That Be

Powers-vs-Powers001Powers is Sony Playstation’s virgin entry into the original content market.  It’s based on a comic series of the same name created way back in 2000 by Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Avon Oeming.  Contrary to the belief of many comic geeks, the general public might know this already even if they’ve never seen it before.  Once upon a History of Violence and Ghost World finding out a cult movie or TV series is based upon a comic might have surprised the general public.  Today we live in a world where this is as common as a Kim Kardasian selfie or YouTube comment flame war, so no one is surprised the movie they just got a woody over is based on those geeky things those guys on the Big Bang Theory are always on about.

A lot of my friend expressed to me concerns that this show would be exclusive to Playstation.   This feeling is a byproduct of what is perceived as highly popular shows being canceled before their time  FOX gets a lot of hate for that one by people who refuse to recognized that is a show doesn’t have the numbers, it’s not as popular as you think.  Because in the end that’s what this is about, getting eyes on the content.   What a lot of people aren’t aware of is Powers is available on Playstion’s website.   That combine with the diverse amount of alternate ways to view it, it’s pretty safe to say that if there’s an interest people will see it.

The question becomes, should you see it?  Is Powers that show that will move Sony Playstation into competition with Netflix or AMC?  According to Rotten Tomatoes the average critic rating is 5.5/10 with a 50% on the meter and the average audience rating it 3.5/5 with 62% on the meter.   Reviews have not been good, and many are saying they might not stick with the show.

For me the show went wrong in the direction it tried to take.   The complaint of a TV show or movie not following the comic is an old one within the geek community.  Many times this is shut down with the argument that we have to wait and see how things will turn out.   We can’t base how good or bad a movie will be from a trailer or news announcements.    The strongest argument against this complaint is the Huge Jackman as Wolverine announcement that cause the internet to lose it’s collective shit because the man was too tall.   However the argument is still bullshit.   Huge Jackman might not be the small size of Wolverine as he’s drawn in comics, but everything else about the man’s performance is the character from the comic.  News reports and trailers do, in fact, tell you where things are going and the times we get it wrong has proven to be the exceptions rather than the rule.

In order to understand what I feel went wrong with the series we have to look at the comic.  So sit back, relax and let’s do a comparison of both.

Powers – the comic – 2000 to current:

Powers-Who-Killed-Retro-GirlI was first introduced to powers way back in 2003 at a convention when I was handed the Who Killed Retro Girl collected edition.  Powers was on issue 37 of volume one and about to move to volume 2 (and from being published by Image comics to being published by Marvel.)   After I read the complete story I had to own the rest and like a good little obsessive compulsive set about finding every issue.   I’ve been collecting it ever since.

The book opens to the scene of a hostage situation.  The police have the front of an apartment building surrounded and Christian Walker pulls up.   He was at the movies and finally got the many calls his Captain put in.  Seems that a man name Finch throw his girlfriend out a 2nd story window and barricaded himself inside with a little girl.  The girlfriend, who is the mother of the little girl was taken to the hospital with serious injuries but vanished without a trace as soon as the doctors turned their backs.   Christian Walker is wondering why he was called since he’s a homicide detective and this is hostage situation and the Captain informs him that Finch asked for him by name.  Also Finch might or might not be a power.   Christian attempts to talk Finch into surrendering from outside the apartment.  Suddenly there is a crash and when Christian and the police bust in they find the little girl in front of the TV calmly eating cereal and the guys, obviously in some kind of homemade super suit, flying off via a jet pack.   The jet pack gives out and Finch hits the ground.   As Finch is being arrested Christian asks him why Finch called specifically for Christian Walker and Finch explains that while in prison another inmate name Wolf said Christian was soft on powers.


That opening pretty much sets the tone for what the book is to be.  It ends with the body of the world’s most famous and popular super-hero, Retro Girl, lying dead in the street.  It gave us memorable characters like Deena Pilgrim, TripHammer, Wolfe, Calista and Johnny Royale.  In the “write for trade” era of comics the book starts out with a case – usually a murder – and ends with a huge event that alters the lives of all the main characters in one way or another.  While Brian Michael Bendis has moved on to doing many famous mainstream comics like Ultimate Spider-Man, New X-Men and the Avengers, his powers comics are still going strong.

Powers – The Sony/Playstation Show

Powers-Sony-Playstatoin-SeriesCan we blame it on Netflix?  They produced original programing like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black and these shows took off on the pop culture landscape.  The won Emmys, got high rating and critical praise and other places figured they could do this too.  Netflix was not the first to do original programing.  HBO has been doing them since the 1990’s, as has the SyFy Network (formally SciFi – because they made more sense) and a FX.  FX was where the show was supposed to go but they did not like the pilot as written and the re-write never occurred.  This is too bad because FX produced shows like The Shield, Louis, Archer, Rescue Me and The Strain.  When many of us heard that FX might being doing a Powers series we were dreaming of super-heroes meets The Shield.  Too bad we did not get it.

Back before the days when super heroes were the money making machines they are now we would go to an adaptation and ask, “Did they actually read the comics at all.”  That is how Powers made me feel.  They got the characters, they got the names and had a sense of the character’s importance to a certain degree.  We all know that changes have to be made, so there might be some bitching but we’ve learned to accept them.  Can we blame it on this being Playstation’s first try at original programing?  An argument can be made for that, no doubt.

Powers suffered mostly from not knowing what it wanted to be.  Sure the special effects budget was sparse, and the editing left a lot to be desired, but these are things that usually find their way as time goes on.  The problem with Powers was that it had no real central tension.  In the comic there’s the tension of police going up against super powers, bureaucracy and some really messed up situations.  In the opening on one volume a long term character got his head chopped off on what looked like a routine investigation.  In another storyline famous super heroes were literally exploding because they were creating by outside forces who left a little insurance policy inside them in case they turned on their masters.  And while the police deal with the crimes, there’s still aliens, demons, extra-dimensional forces, super fights and all kinds of crazy stuff.   That is always the central tension with the comic, not the Playstation show.

The show kept trying to stay away from regular tropes.  It wouldn’t go full blown super hero like Arrow or Flash.  It would go police procedural.   Every episode seemed like desperate attempts at character without actually giving the character’s something to do in order to examine all that character stuff.  For instance, in the Shield Vic Mackie is trying to stop a new DA from blowing up his shit.  He visits the guy’s house and finds out he’s taking care of a wife with a lot of mental issue.  The woman gets naked and Vic has sex with her.  They did not have him give a ten minute speech about it, they did not have him agonizing over it, he just did it and it fit with Vic Mackie’s character.   In the Powers Playstation show the main character, Christian Walker, spends a good deal of time every single episode bitching about not having powers.  In the comic he barely discusses it but you got a sense of who he is by how everyone treated him.  He was friendly with really famous powers, criminals had a grudging respect for him, his fellow offices mistrusted him because he was perceived as being “soft on powers.”  There was none of this in the Playstation show, just a lot of the actor’s dialogue about wanting his powers back.

Deena Pilgrim in the comic is a non-nonsense cop who had to come up threw the ranks by punching a few heads in.  Her introduction is telling one of the funniest and most tragic stories about her last bust that lead her to being assigned to “Power’s Division.”   She was quick tempers, would take a baseball bat to a power in a second and every story arc demonstrated why she was a detective.  The character in the TV show seemed more like a victim of Christian Walker’s bitching, and the show never establishes a real partner connection between the two.

Worse of all, none of the characters really shined.  Not even Eddie Izzard – who has become one of those characters actors that you want to see do. . .well anything.    His storyline could have been interesting but meandered, wasn’t paced well and he did give you that sense of “threat” any good villain should give you.  The plot twists either made no sense or you have a “saw that coming” feeling, and nothing about the show was particularly memorable or exciting.  These are the things that made me go, “Did they actually read the book.”

I know Brian Michael Bendis was involved as he did interview after interview signing the praises of what he was seeing.  But it was obvious he bent to the will of who ever was show runner.  Sony has announced that the show is getting a second season, but I’m not particularly excited about this.  Even if the show ended where it should have begun, and if they used the first season to lead up to this story, they did not do a very good job.

I will probably watch the 2nd season anyway, but it won’t be on my list of “must see live” shows.  I hope it gets better because if the 1st season is any indication, they will need a lot of luck on that one.