During the lead up to and outbreak of World War II, two unique genres of fiction were created that would dominate much of pop culture in the decades to follow; the police procedural tale, which has been told predominantly through the mediums of television, movies and prose novels and the super hero story, which has primarily been a product of comic books, though it’s seen its share of stories told through television series and movies. In 2000, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Avon Oeming were interested in seeing what would result from the combination of these two genres when told from the perspective of a police officer. The result was the highly acclaimed creator-owned comic series “Powers” which chronicles the exploits of Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim, two homicide detective tasked with investigating murder cases involving super powers.
11 years later, “Powers” is still going strong. Currently published through Marvel Comics’ Icon imprint, soon fans of the series will get a chance to experience it via the medium of television as FX Network recently green lit production of a pilot for a “Powers” television program. CBR News spoke with Bendis about the recent developments for both the comic and the potential TV series.
Having the television pilot green lit is particularly gratifying for Bendis because an adaptation of the series has been in development for nearly as long as the comic has been in production. Sony first optioned the series with the intent of creating a “Powers” feature film when issue #2 of the series’ first volume was released back in 2000.
“God bless Sony. Every year, they wrote a check. It was a nice bit of money and it freed us up to create more ‘Powers.’ That was great, but we did hope they’d make an adaptation one day. After a few years, it got to a point where there was so much money attached to it with directors, producers and people who had been paid fees in the past, that unless someone like Brad Pitt came on board, we had to forget about it,” Bendis told CBR News. “We were very lucky a few years ago that one of our co-conspirators on ‘Powers’ said to us, ‘It’s not dead as a TV show. If things could be moved over to Sony Television, this could still happen.’ That was a very smart idea as it turned out Sony Television was very interested in it. There are some awesome people there and one of them is a huge ‘Powers’ fan. They helped us get set up at FX, which has a legendarily slow development time. We did this for about two and a half years and everyone seemed really positive about it, but you never know.
“So now the pilot has been green lit and I feel like Morgan Freeman at the end of ‘The Shawshank Redemption.’ I finally got out of jail and now I don’t know what to do,” Bendis joked. “The guys at Sony and FX and our showrunner are all amazing. One of the reasons I really wanted this show to happen was that I was really enjoying the experience of working with them. We really like each other and the conversations at FX are so smart. They make a lot of smart programs. I kept thinking, ‘I would love to continue these conversations while we make a real show.’ So that’s where we are. We’re talking to actors and budgets are being put together. Locations are being determined and we’ll be off and running very shortly.”
Production may be moving forward on the “Powers” pilot, but Bendis and everyone attached to the project are aware that there is still have plenty of hard work to be done. “It’s difficult to take the role of superheroes and then flip them and do the same thing with a cop show. We’ve done that with the comic and created this sort of mash up genre that speaks to those familiar with the rules of the super hero and police procedural genres, but doesn’t bash them over the head with the rules. You know all the rules because you’ve seen all the movies and read the comics. Now, we’re going to flip them,” Bendis explained. “When I see people saying things like, ‘I hope it’s better than ‘The Cape,’ they’re looking at this show the wrong way. We’re not a super hero show. We’re trying to be better than ‘Hill Street Blues’ or ‘The Shield.’ That’s what we’re aiming for. This is a cop show that will show you something you haven’t seen before, and when you consider the fact that there’s been thousands of cop shows, that’s a pretty daunting task.”
To help achieve that rather lofty goal, veteran television writer and producer Charles “Chic” Eglee has been tapped as the showrunner for the pilot and potential series. Eglee’s body of work includes stints on acclaimed police dramas “Hill Street Blues” and “The Shield” as well as Showtime’s highly successful adaptation of Jeff Lindsay’s “Dexter” novels. Most recently, Eglee worked on AMC’s adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s creator-owned comic series “The Walking Dead.”
“Chick’s first job was ‘Hill Street Blues.’ Cop shows are in his blood and he’s a smarter man than I,” Bendis remarked. “Plus, with ‘The Walking Dead’ Robert expertly massaged the nerd up to the surface of [Eglee] and then handed him over, which was great. Robert did a lot of work explaining to him the world that we live in. So when he was introduced to me he was ready to have a conversation. It was great.”
At this point, details are slim save for the fact that the pilot is an adaptation of the comic’s initial story arc, “Who Killed Retro Girl?” “All the characters are there. This is the story of Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim solving cases and solving some of the big cases from the book. That’s absolutely what this series is about,” Bendis stated. “My wife has read the ‘Dexter’ books and she said the books and the TV show complement each other but are almost in different universes. That sounds very attractive to me. Going forward, if the pilot becomes a series, the book is there to set pace and tone. But once actors take over the roles and writers start penning episodes, I want the TV show to breathe its own life. I want it to do for television what ‘Powers’ did for comics and come up with its own language. I’m much more interest in watching that than a slavish adaptation, which is death as far as I’m concerned.
“Like comics, television is episodic in nature. So there’s a lot in the comics that applies directly to television and you will see a lot of elements of the book in there,” Bendis continued. “What’s cool for everyone at Sony and FX is that these television guys have 11 years worth of graphic novels to draw from. People call me with questions about Walker and Deena, and I have an answer. I studied these characters from every which way. This won’t be like a normal pilot where you write the initial script and hope you figure out the rest. We could just follow the books and we’d be okay for three years. To me, though, they’re a jumping off point.”
As fans already know, “Powers” the comic series doesn’t just have unique stories; it has a distinctive and signature look thanks to the art style of co-creator Michael Avon Oeming. In keeping with that, discussions are underway about how to give the “Powers” pilot its own unique look as well.
“A lot of people may be confused. This isn’t an animated show. This is a live action show. I’m going to wait for Michael Dinner, our director, to talk about this more publicly, but a lot of determination has been made about the look of the show and which direction we’re going to go in. There’s been a lot of viewing of films and other shows for everyone to kind of get on the same page,” Bendis said. “Also there’s been a lot of discussion about Mike’s character acting and gesture work informing the characters in the pilot. That has to be expressed in the pilot script as well.”
The television incarnations of Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim are about to meet each other for the first time, while their four color incarnations were recently reunited after a long time apart. At the end of the second volume of “Powers,” Pilgrim had been forced to leave the police force. When the series’ third volume began, Walker was partnered with a new detective: Enki Sunrise. In issue #7, in stores now, Pilgrim walked back into Walker’s life as an FBI agent.
“Deena is back and she’s been put on an FBI task force, which is a lot of fun for us. She’s coming back almost as Walker’s boss, even though she was Walker’s subordinate when the series started,” Bendis explained. “She brings a lot of fireworks with her, which is a lot of fun. Also, there’s a lot of baggage between these two characters. They know an awful lot about each other.”
Initially, Deena was very happy to be working with her former partner, though she engaged in some verbal sparring with Enki. That doesn’t necessarily mean that she dislike’s Walker’s new partner, however. “Mike and I discussed the scenes with Deena and Enki. From the way he drew those scenes, I think Deena really likes Enki. She just feels that it’s kind of her job to bust her balls,” Bendis stated. “Like, if she didn’t bust her balls, everyone would think something was wrong. She kids because it’s expected of her.”
Pilgrim was called into help Walker and Enki with their latest case because it’s a high profile one. One of the members of The Golden Ones, a super hero group whose members claim to be gods from different mythological pantheons, has been murdered.
“We’re well into one of Mike Oeming’s great passions, which is mythology. People have read his ‘Ares’ miniseries and one-shot. Plus, he did the Ragnarok storyline of ‘Thor,’ so this is well within Mike’s wheelhouse. Since our god characters are figures of wealth and privilege, there is a little sense of ‘Dallas’ or ‘Dynasty’ along with the ‘Thor’ word balloons,” Bendis said. “The nice thing is, this story involved very little research. I can rely on Mike’s expertise. He feeds me the information and then I mold it in something that someone who doesn’t know anything about mythology would be more interested in,” The writer joked. “So Mike brought the nerd and I brought the cheese scraper.”
The current investigation in “Powers” is set to unfold over the remainder of 2011 in a big, multi-issue storyline. With each issue, the plot will escalate until things explode in an epic and apocalyptic climax. “As Mike’s Twitter followers know, this arc will feature the biggest end we’ve had to a story since the end of the second volume,” Bendis remarked. “This is a very big story for Walker and Deena. It’s a game changer.”
With a massive story being told in the comics and production of the television pilot moving forward, it’s a good time to be a “Powers” fan. Bendis feels that much of the book’s commercial and creative success has been because of the devoted “Powers” fanbase, and he’s thankful for each and every one of them.
“I’m so grateful to the fans of Powers, both the single issue collectors and the trades collectors. Since you’ve stuck with us through all these years, you absolutely created a support system in which we could get this show off the ground. So you should take a lot of pride in that as fans of this stuff. I know there’s stuff that I’ve been a fan of over the years and when it finally breaks into the next step, I take a lot of pride in it. It’s like, ‘I loved that thing!’ So, please do take a lot of pride in it,” Bendis said. “The internet voices have been very loud and heard, by the way. A lot of it’s brought up in meetings where I would never bring it up. Other people will say, ‘Hey I read this online.’ So that’s been fantastic — and have no fear, we’re continuing ‘Powers.’ We’ll keep making issues.”
“Also, ‘Powers’ is going to start coming out exclusively through Icon as far as the back stock of the trades and the hardcovers, starting with our first trade ‘Who Killed Retro Girl?,'” Bendis continued. “So for those looking to jump onto ‘Powers’ because you heard about the TV show, Icon will have the full run of trades and hardbacks coming throughout the year. If you need to know where to buy ‘Powers,’ this is where you buy ‘Powers!'”