In 2000, Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Avon Oeming kicked off their creator-owned ongoing series “Powers” with Image Comics, moving to Marvel Comics‘ Icon imprint in 2004. The long-running series follows the lives and investigations of homicide detectives Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim, who specialize in super power related murders. The series is still going strong, but for almost a decade the “Powers” creative team has longed to see what a live action adaptation of their super powered police procedural will look like.
In December, the creators will get their wish. After years of development — first as a feature film and then as a television series — a “Powers” television adaptation will finally become a reality thanks to Sony PlayStation Network. The series is well-timed for comics readers, as well — the current comics volume of “Powers,” which sees Walker and Pilgrim as FBI agents, is set to come to an explosive conclusion.
CBR News spoke with Bendis about finally bringing “Powers” to television, all while wrapping up Walker and Pilgrim’s Bureau time in the comics, as well as what fans can expect from the next volume of the critically acclaimed series, which kicks off in December with the duo back as homicide cops.
CBR News: Brian, after many years and hurdles, including a pilot that was filmed for the FX Network but not picked up for series, how does it feel to have a “Powers” television adaptation nearly ready for air?
Brian Michael Bendis: You’re talking to me about a week after New York Comic Con where we debuted the cast and the trailer to a giant room packed full of people. I can speak for Mike [Oeming] as well on this, we could not be happier with how it went. It was a near perfect convention experience. It was also a very surreal convention experience.
So we’re feeling very, very good. It has been a roller coaster, no doubt. I get very Zen about it. My worst day at the office is me writing comic books. So it’s hard to get myself too riled up about stuff I can’t control. We worked really hard though, and it’s not just me and Mike. There are a lot of people who worked very hard to get this show going and make it a good show.
It’s finally happening against all odds. You don’t get a lot of do-overs in show business. That’s not how it works. So having just experienced that one thing that all creators kinds of hope for, that one day you get to take the big stage, show your thing, and people like it has been amazing.
It’s been a hell of a couple of weeks. We are just now calming down from it. We were floating on air because of them. A lot of stuff happened behind the scenes, which was tremendous. A lot of my friends, like Jen Gruenwald and Alex Maleev, are gigantic Eddie Izzard fans and didn’t seem to fully believe me that he was in the cast. So Eddie came and he could not have treated my friends better. He even invited them to a private show he did that Saturday at midnight! A lot of my friends are beaming at me like they’re a little more in love with me than they were in the past. On a personal and professional level it’s been a very good couple of weeks.
I understand this show also lead to you forging some new friendships like with “Powers” show runner and comic and crime writer Charlie Huston.
Yeah, Charlie is a great guy and he came to this project in the most interesting way. When we were at FX, we made a pilot and it wasn’t a disastrous pilot. It had some problems — most of which were tonal and chemistry; the kind of stuff where you can do everything right and there’s still a little something off.
It was good enough for FX to start hiring writers and working on a season. They were trying to get a better sense of the season, and Charlie was one of the writers that got hired to be in the writer’s room. I saw that and was like, “I know Charlie Huston! He did ‘Moon Knight!’ I did ‘Moon Knight!’ We shared David Finch together!” There are very few people in the world that I can say I shared David Finch with.
Under the tutelage of our last show writer Chick Eglee, Charlie had written an outstanding episode for that version of the “Powers” show. It was good enough where I sat up and made phone calls. I called the president of the network and said, “By the way if you’re looking for ‘Powers,’ if you’re searching for it, this is it. It’s funny, sexy and dark as hell.” I really liked the episode and others agreed. Because within a week the writer’s room was shut down and Charlie was put in charge of the show.
Then Charlie started working on a version of the show different from what we have now, the FX version. I’m still in business with FX too. They’re producing the cartoon I’m doing with Floyd County. They’re such a tremendous group of people. They’re very smart and you’ve probably heard that John Landgraf is a very intelligent network president.
He liked us and was really challenged by the material, but something just didn’t fit. It’s hard to describe. I equated it to dating where you’re going out with a smart, beautiful, and funny person and something is a little off, but you can’t really put your finger on it.
All of the time this was going on Sony, who had been with us since the beginning, came to us and said, “Listen, if for some reason FX doesn’t move forward, we have a plan.” Soon after FX did not go forward and I don’t know why. They sent us on our way and the next day Sony and this man named Chris Parnell — no, not that Chris Parnell — called up and told us the plan about PlayStation having its own streaming service, its own network, and they said, “Wouldn’t ‘Powers’ be a great debut show?”
It could be a signature show since it’s made up of these two genres that mash together in such a unique way. We could be an interesting little antidote to what’s going on with all the super hero shows and movies. In comics “Powers” is this little indie book that puts two genres on their heads and they thought that would be an interesting thing to have on PlayStation.
We worked out the situation and they brought Charlie on over. It was me and Charlie and then slowly the writer’s room came together with our other showrunner Remi Aubuchon. Then, David Slade signed on to direct the first couple of episodes. Then all of a sudden it’s like, “Wow! This is what they promised would happen!” It’s a real network show cast and budgeted on the same level as “Breaking Bad” or “The Blacklist” and filming is under way. We’re well into our seventh episode.
What kind of episodes will we see in the “Powers” series? Will we get adaptations of the stories told in the comics, mostly new stories or a combination of both?
It’s not that I just want new stories, but I didn’t want a “faithful adaptation.” I’ve been in comics a long time, but I’ve been in television for a little while now as well. I’m not a television expert, except watching of course, but I do know enough about the medium to know that a fatal mistake is thinking they’re identical mediums even though there’s a lot of similarities. They’re definitely sister mediums to each other, but the real stuff that matters is very different as far as storytelling is concerned.
So there are ideas, themes, characters and scenes behind “Powers” that you could do in both comics and TV. Overall though, I’m not interested in a faithful adaptation. I’ve got the books. I want to see something else. My wife had pointed out that “Dexter” had a very similar trajectory; the books were one thing and the shows were another. That sounds fantastic to me, and that’s the way we’ve gone.
So you’re going to recognize almost everything that’s in the show from somewhere in the book. Charlie did a very interesting thing in cherry picking from the get go in order to make the best television show. You’ll see Calista isn’t a little child as she is at the beginning of the comics. She’s very much the age she is now. There are other things to that make it more of a TV show and less of TV show trying to be a comic or a comic trying to be a TV show — because of the comic book, some people bring stuff to it themselves. They see things. Just today someone wrote, “I always kind of saw Deena as African American.” Then another person goes, “I don’t understand how you could even cast an African American.”
People bring to it stuff that I have no control over, which is fascinating. But yes, it is going to be very familiar in all the right places. It will also be different enough to hopefully surprise even the most diehard audience. For those looking just to follow along with the comics, and I don’t think many people are looking for that, we’re not going to be doing that.
Has working on “Powers” the series inspired any ideas for “Powers” the comic? Are there any television stories or ideas from the show that you want to see interpreted and adapted with the language of comics?
The comic is so far ahead in these characters lives and their relationships. There are some things that we’ve done that are just so over the top as far as comic book language that they’re just very different to me. There are similarities. It may be that a year from now I won’t be able to write Walker without hearing our actor, but not yet.
It’s like two sets of actors playing the same role, if that makes sense. There are the actors in my head and the actors that are people in real life. For many years many of my friends thought this show was in my head and didn’t exist — so, that was probably the best part of New York. Finally, a number of people who even recently said to me, “Stop talking about the show, it’s not going to happen,” now they have to shut up. So that was a good part of New York.
How was it seeing fans react to the trailer and stills from the show? I’m an Eddie Izzard fan, but my first reaction to the image of him as Wolfe was, “Why is Alan Moore in the ‘Powers’ TV show?”
[Laughs] Yes, Alan Moore, and one of the actors playing the Simons who people will recognize from the first arc of “Powers,” not on the show but in the right light, does have a very Grant Morrison feel to him. So some people might think we’re making some Meta commentary about Grant Morrison and Alan Moore and we’ll see if we are. [Laughs]
David Marquez was the first one to point that out to me. He was over here watching dailies and he goes to me, “In the right light that’s Alan Moore.” The character of Wolfe though does such horrible things on camera. Just tonight Mike Oeming was over watching dailies and the blood was everywhere. He stood up and goes, “Well, that’s not Alan Moore.” [Laughs]
[Laughs] Will people who are not necessarily gamers have a way to see “Powers” the TV series? Has there been talk about releasing the series on DVD?
They’re going to make more announcements when the time comes, but the idea is that people who have a PlayStation Network account, which millions of people do, they’re going to have a show that’s free! Everyone in the world can see the first episode for free, but this is one of the things they’re doing to get you into the world of PlayStation, much like how they do with the game extras and other stuff they do.
So it’s about that, but it will follow the traditions of other TV shows in that once the exclusive window for PlayStation is up you’ll be able to find it in other ways.
It was very cool to turn on my PlayStation this week and see that the “Powers” page was already up. So now it feels real. It’s on the PlayStation.
The one thing that I was concerned about when this offer was made was will people think it’s lesser if it’s not on a network or cable? In that small window between us agreeing to do this and now, Netflix and Amazon have both launched real shows with real actors. So now nobody even flinches. They go, “Okay, that’s where the show is.” Most people don’t care where they’re getting their entertainment from as long as they know where to get it.
Also this way we get to do our rated R show for an audience that’s looking for an rated R show, and what could be cooler?
Let’s move over to “Powers” the comic. Things changed drastically for Agents Walker and Pilgrim in “Powers: Bureau” #11 when we found out that the FBI was now a conspiracy controlled by Powers. What inspired this twist? How long have you been setting it up?
You’re going to find out how long I’ve been setting it up next issue.
There has been a big conspiracy afoot throughout this whole year of “Powers,” but it goes all the way back to the third year of “Powers” where we literally showed you a shadowy figure walking into one of the cases and then walking out. So it’s been going on for a long time, and you know I like the long con! Being able to pull that off is very nice, but it’s definitely one of those instances where people who have been binge reading are going to discover some stuff that we’ve been planting the entire time.
So #12 brings the FBI story of “Powers” to quite a shocking conclusion because each one of our characters will not be anywhere near where they were at the beginning of this let’s say “season.” That’s what I’ve brought from television. It’s a season.
“Powers” #1, which debuts this winter, is just like the debut issue of “United States of Murder Inc.” in that it’s double sized for the regular price. We’re going to pick up in a place that’s so different from where we’ve been in the past that new readers won’t be lost. It’s a legitimate new #1. Then older readers will be like “Whoa! What happened?” And that’s the best stuff.
I know you’re a fan of time jumps where events happen off panel.
I am! And we’re doing it again! I love it.
What can we expect from Mike’s approach to this new volume or “season” of “Powers?” Has his work been impacted by the show?
I think Mike, more than I, has been affected by the show. He’s been working on the show’s visuals throughout the whole summer. Charlie was very smart to find ways to include Mike’s art work in the body of the show; from water bottles, to playing cards, to t-shirts, to posters. You find out that Retro Girl’s entire fortune was built on this look, the look of the Mike Oeming artwork. There’s a cartoon that’s been on for like 30 years. It never really went off like “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” So Retro Girl’s message merchandise is all in Mike Oeming’s style. You see his work everywhere in the show.
I love that because in these adaptations that’s the first thing that gets tossed, the visual look of the comic. Because when real life people are on screen they’re not going to look like these very broad cartoon style drawings. They found a way to keep that with the show though. I love Mike so much it’s exciting that his art is going to be part of it.
You’re going to see Mike completely engaged and happy as an artist on this show. Watching his dream come true and watching him take the stage with all the actors in New York was quite something. And on a personal level, it’s really cool that we get to do this together. Sometimes the creators aren’t speaking to each other anymore by the time success comes their way. We both wanted this though and we both wanted to enjoy each other’s company while it happens, and to become closer as friends than we were when we started is just the best.
One of the things we debuted at New York Comic Con was Charlie and I, and the other producers were cooking all kinds of interesting ways to include the history of Retro Girl and the legacy of the super heroes throughout the series visually and that lead us to hire a lot of my friends, who happen to be among the best comic book artists in the world, to create brand new artwork for the show. That includes Mike Allred, whose work I posted on Tumblr. David Mack was hired to draw these 1960’s “Vogue” Bob Peak style illustrations of Retro Girl. He literally did 30 of them even though we asked for like six. David Marquez and Justin Ponsor did a really great modern Retro Girl comic book cover.
All of this art work was produced for the show, but also after it was done I went to Sony and asked, “Hey, do you guys mind if we make these variant covers?” And they were like, “Sure, go ahead.” So I very sneakily got Sony to pay my friends to do artwork for myself. [Laughs] I liked connecting the show to the language of comics, which is part of “Powers” and we’re bringing that to the comic as well.
Sony PlayStation Network’s “Powers” and Marvel Icon’s “Powers” #1 hit in December.