Brian Michael Bendis (“New Avengers”) and Michael Avon Oeming (“The Mice Templar”) celebrated the 10th anniversary of their creator-owned, superhero-filled, crime-driven series “Powers” at the 10th anniversary of Baltimore Comic-Con with their very own retrospective panel. Moderated by John Siuntres of the Word Balloon podcast, the “Powers” panel offered a look back on the history of the series, some new details regarding the upcoming third volume and a status update on the still-developing FX television series.
“Mike Oeming, myself and David Mack were traveling the country as a barnacle of gypsy comic book creators trying to build an audience,” Bendis remembered of the time leading to “Powers'” inception. “I had just finished ‘Torso’ and was working on ‘Fortune and Glory,’ and Mike was working on ‘Ship of Fools’ and David had ‘Kabuki.’ We all met at a Philadelphia comic book signing at a store. Me and David were already friends when we met Mike, and Mike was this tasmanian devil of art styles and ideas.”
Following the meeting, Oeming sent Bendis a version of his Jinx character in what the writer described as Oeming’s eventual “Powers” style. “I called David Mack and said, ‘I’d rather Jinx was drawn like this than the way I’m drawing it!'” Bendis said. “So I called Mike – we weren’t friends yet – and I said I had this idea for ‘Powers’ and I wasn’t sure if we should sell it to DC or Marvel or do it on our own. The idea to do it on our own seemed insane.”
Ultimately, Bendis and Oeming settled upon that seemingly crazy idea of going the creator-owned route, which terrified the both of them at the outset. “Neither one of us had sold enough books to generate a colored book,” he said. “[But] we went for it, and our first issue came in at 12,000 [issues sold]. It was right on the bubble to being successful and it was the most we’d ever sold in our lives. We ended up going up in sales from the second and third and fourth issues, all the way through issue #12, which never happens in comics.”
The writer’s informative recollection was periodically interrupted by a slideshow that Oeming had put together, which featured superimposed pictures of Bendis’ head on Mary Jane Watson and Dr. Evil’s bodies, among others “I’m not having any luck,” the writer laughed.
Both Bendis and Oeming reminisced over several early storylines featured in “Powers,” specifically the appearance of Warren Ellis in the first volume’s seventh issue. “I’d always found the dynamic of a writer sitting in a cop’s car rather odd,” Bendis said of the appearance. “I read one of Warren Ellis’s columns on CBR – and I didn’t really know Warren – but I said, ‘Hey Warren, I have this idea for an asshole-ish British writer to do a ride along [in my comic]. Can it be you?’ And he went, ‘Yeah!’ And I asked if I could use all of his columns and dialogue, and he said ‘Yeah!’ He laughed about the whole thing and was very, very cool about it.”
The pair also discussed the theme of media throughout “Powers,” which Bendis likened to VH1’s “Behind The Music” specials. “[In reality,] you wouldn’t see superheroes all the time, but you would talk about them all the time,” he said. “There would be a TMZ or E! channel dedicated just to superheroes. We would not let them be, we would not let them live and we would not leave them alone. It would be constant.
“Little did I know that so much of what in the first couple years of ‘Powers’ was perceived as over-the-top satire was just [real life]. Now, Letterman has a secret bed. There’s not a celebrity that’s immune,” he continued. “I look back and I see that we have a lot of superheroes die on camera. You can’t help but think that we’ll see a celebrity die on film.”
Bendis and Oeming hyped up the return of “Powers” to Marvel’s Icon imprint by debuting new images from the series in the panel’s slideshow. They said that the new arc would highlight Christian Walker’s time during and after World War II as a member of the “superhero rat pack,” before his superhero glory days.
The creators also discussed the end of the previous volume, featuring the departure of Deena Pilgrim from the Powers division and the introduction of Walker’s new partner, Enki Sunrise. Bendis described these developments as 80% planned and 20% open to the characters dictating their own arcs. “I like when the characters take over,” he said. “Sometimes they surprise you by falling in love, or they surprise you by going, ‘No, I’m not going to do this.'”
Oeming pointed out that Bendis didn’t even have Walker’s past planned out from the get-go, but that it has become a facet of the series that both creators enjoy. For example, Deena will definitely return to “Powers” in volume three, but “in a new way” than was previously planned or considered.
Beyond the comic book, Bendis and Oeming have been working with FX on the “Powers” television series. They described the tumultuous experience of bringing “Powers” to the right people in the entertainment industry after several screenwriters and studio executives simply didn’t get the premise. Now, Bendis himself has written the first few drafts of the pilot episode. “I didn’t want to go down the Alan Moore route,” he said. “If I fuck it up, I fuck it up.”
Kevin Falls (“Journeyman”) is on board as the showrunner and Michael Dinner (“Bionic Woman”) will direct the pilot. The “Powers” series hasn’t been officially greenlit yet, but both Bendis and Oeming are optimistic about the show’s chances. Siuntres asked if they had a dream cast in mind for “Powers,” with Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck on “Battlestar Galactica”) seemingly a favorite for the role of Deena. In fact, she previously worked with Dinner on “Bionic Woman” – a fact that Bendis has “brought up about seven times.”
Siuntres opened up the panel for fan questions, with one audience member asking Bendis and Oeming for advice on breaking into comic books. Bendis suggested that digital publishing is an excellent route. Oeming concurred, saying that digital publishing is the best way to get comic books to a wide audience.
Bendis was asked what he enjoyed about working in both mainstream and creator-owned comics. “Spider-Man can’t swear, even though I think he would, but that’s okay,” he answered. “For that book, I have to make a creative decision that’s better than swearing. But it’s also good that I have another outlet in which I can express myself anyway that I see fit.”
Siuntres asked if Bendis and Oeming would ever swap roles as writer and artist, and Bendis revealed that Oeming is actually co-writing the upcoming volume of “Powers.” Additionally, the writer said that he is more inclined to return to his artistic roots following some recent illustrations he provided for Marvel.
Oeming was praised for making his more cartoonish style fit with the crime genre. “One of the things that actually shocked me was the lack of trouble we ever got into for the content of ‘Powers’ considering that the cartoony style – especially early on when I was much more cartoony -Â would be pretty attractive to younger audiences, or parents that would be disarmed by that look and not realize that there was adult content in there,” Oeming described. “Never once did anybody confuse ‘Powers’ with kids books. We never really got any pushback from retailers. It worked immediately.”
Asked how they decided on killing off the book’s characters, Bendis said: “I know people think that I [kill characters needlessly] at Marvel, like I wake up one morning and go, ‘Oh, I’m going to kill the Wasp.’ These things have to have a reason, a plan and it has to mean something. As sensational as the murders are, they have to mean something.”
When asked to cite some of his artistic influences, Oeming pointed to illustrators such as Will Eisner and Mike Mignola. He also cited Bendis’ vast knowledge of film noir as helpful when creating the book’s visual style.
A fan asked Bendis about his research process for “Powers,” specifically his tendency to ride along on police patrols. “I make an effort to meet and get to know a lot of cops and intelligence agents,” he said. “Even if it’s information I can get from watching a TV show, I should really go and get it myself.”
Now that he has a family, Bendis said that his ride along days are mostly behind him. “It was scary shit,” he remembered. “You’re riding along, you get the call, then all of the sudden you’re riding 90 MPH down the Vegas strip.”
As the panel concluded, Bendis offered a thank you to the fans. “Over the last couple of years particularly, we haven’t made it easy to be fans of the book,” he said. “You guys have been with us and been on board and have hung in there. Me and Mike really, really, really appreciate it. Thank you for being a patron of independent comics.”
Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s third volume of “Powers” debuts on November 25, 2009 courtesy of Marvel’s Icon imprint.