“Powers” creators Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming were joined at Comic-Con International by showrunner Remi Aubuchon, Susan Heyward (Deena Pilgrim) and Olesya Rulin (Calista) to discuss the Playstation original series first and upcoming seasons. The panel opened with a video recap of the first season, which ended with the question that plagued the comic in 2000: “Who killed Retro Girl?”
“A lot of people waited a long time with for this show to find its way to the air,” Bendis said. “From when the very first episode hit the air, it’s just been love, love, love… I’ve been very fortunate in this area. I know that feeling of waiting and hoping, and it’s been pretty great.”
“It’s really neat when your book or creation starts to get a life of its own,” Oeming added. “You get cosplayers, you get artists wanting to contribute stuff… it feels great.”
When it came to the conclusion of the first season and Retro Girl’s death, Bendis recounted his shock at the audience’s surprise. “It’s actually the title of the first book,” he laughed. “When episode ten hit, people were like, ‘Oh, I can’t believe you did that!’ And I’m like, ‘I can’t believe you can’t believe I did that!'”
“Well, clearly you didn’t read the book,” Oeming responded.
“[Michelle Forbes] is coming back next season as zombie Retro Girl,” Bendis joked. “She’s going to team up with Deena and solve her own murder. Is that a spoiler?”
“But you feel that all the time when you have a wonderful actress like Michelle, bringing more to that role than we ever thought,” Aubuchon added on a more serious note. “I think we all knew and she knew that she was going to die at the end. There were moments where we went, ‘Hm, maybe there’s a way to change that…'”â€¨
“Maybe she has a twin sister,” Bendis teased. “We felt the same way about Eddie [Izzard] as well. Eddie was so charming and so cool behind the scenes and such a great voice of positive energy for us.”
With Calista manifesting her own power at the end of Season One, the character obviously has many things in store for her — but Rulin isn’t sure just what those are right now. “I know nothing,” she admitted, “I won’t know until they send me a script (eventually). But I’m excited! I don’t know if I am the Black Swan… I just know that I have to get to the gym a lot and get really strong.”
Heyward groaned when asked how Deena would feel about Calista manifesting powers. “Calista has proven that she isn’t a trustworthy person,” she explained. “She says one thing and does another. It’s in addition to the one thing that Deena is always fighting: How do you corral these people with this power, when you don’t have it? It’s one of the big questions of the entire series.”
“The great thing about having a character like Calista — that’s all she ever wanted, that’s all she ever thought,” said Aubuchon. “‘If only I have powers, everything would change.’ Now, she’s given powers; what’s she going to do with them? That’s what we’ll explore in the second season.”
“All Deena knows is that everyone’s a suspect,” Bendis added, before switching topics. “Do you want to spoil something? Let’s spoil something. Who’s going to be a character in the second season? How about this: Mike Oeming will sit right here and draw the face of the new character, and at the end we’ll reveal it… And due to budget cuts, the whole second season will be watching Mike draw.”
“In the first season, you’re trying to figure out how you can translate a comic book that’s been going on for ten years. How can you actually turn that into a television show? We had mostly successes, I think, but there are some things we would have liked to do differently,” Aubuchon shared. “One of the things we’re really committed to this season is really using the mythology that Brian and Mike came up with in the books, and integrating that into part of the mythology that’s created for the television show, but find a way to make that fit into the second season and really take off a bit, get more in your face, get a little bit more of the dynamic that was so present in the graphic style of the book.”
“One of the mysteries, of course, which you might think is already revealed in the books — who killed Retro Girl will be a complete surprise and very different from what was in the book,” he added. “The other big question is: Who was Retro Girl? It’s a crazy path that Walker and Deena will have to follow.”
“We now have the opportunity to open up the world of ‘Powers.’ Now we’re able to expand and introduce new characters and characters who were loved in the book,” Bendis revealed. “The creator of the Tick, Ben Edlund, is actually in our writer’s room, hot off of ‘Gotham.'”
â€¨Edlund, who was in the audience, joined the cast on stage after Bendis pointed him out in the crowd. “I’ve enjoyed it immensely,” he said of his “Powers” experience. “This show comes out of a toaster… I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s a new channel, a new place. I feel like there’s this new culture of the new media, like a Wild West mentality. There’s a lot of open cap to it.”
Speaking about her character Deena, Heyward mused, “Powers are so attractive, and you dream about what you would do when you get them. I think it’s a world where everybody wants powers, whether they’re willing to admit it or not. It’s one of the things I think she struggles with… then trying to cover up that desire. I think there’s a lot of life in the maybe. You go back and forth between ‘maybe I do’ and ‘maybe I don’t.'”
“Another actor we saw in the reel there is Aaron Farb, who played all seventeen Simons,” Bendis said. Farb was also in the audience and hopped on stage when Bendis pointed him out.
“My favorite thing about Simon is that he had worked out all 17 characters he was playing,” Aubuchon explained of Farb’s multiplying character. “He had each one of them worked out.”
“It was mapping it out, trying to be specific about it from the beginning,” Farb said. “Some did, some didn’t.”
“There were actually four or five other guys who did the stand-in so that Aaron didn’t have to literally act with himself, and everyday they were all dressed like Simons — they all had to shave their heads — and they ate lunch together, which was disturbing,” Aubuchon recounted. “One of my favorite moments was having Chris, our special effects guy, with a fire hose, hooked up to blood, saying, ‘How much do you want?’ and I said, ‘More! All of it!'”
“[Zora] is very much a part of Season Two,” Bendis said. “What we liked about that, as someone who just felt so empowered, that swagger of youth… and then the real world came in and knocked her down, and now we have a very interesting story to tell with her. What is she going to do with what’s happened to her? That storyline and how it affects all of her relationships is part of Season Two.”
“I don’t know any of the details, but I would think Calista would definitely have some negative energy towards Zora and kind of proving herself… not from an egotistical place, but, ‘See, you have to believe in the wannabes more,'” Runlin said.
“Anger doesn’t always make you evil,” Aubuchon said.
“It isn’t the powers themselves, it’s the choices people make with them,” Oeming added. “So, just like Zora had this kind of learning experience, the same thing could happen to Calista just because the origin of powers doesn’t dictate who she’s going to be or how she’s going to act.”
Bendis also commented on the way Walker has changed through the season. “At the end of Season One, it looks like he makes a giant choice to let that go — ‘I’m going to be a human being,’ and then the rug literally is pulled out from under him… It’s that universal feeling about waiting too long, and what kind of person he is without her. And what is the world like? How is the city going to react? There’s a power vacuum. She’s gone. This isn’t just a murder, it’s the biggest superhero in the world and she’s gone and everything everyone fears falls on the Powers Division, not only to solve the murder but to keep the city from burning. So there’s that, and Walker tearing through that.”
“In the first season, Walker’s need to get his powers back was so important for him that his relationship with Deena really wasn’t addressed,” Heyward added. “So we kind of got stuck in one place of Deena trying to get in and trying to think about how they can work together, because she sees the value in who he is and how his mind works. Hopefully, in Season Two, we can figure out what it is with these two puzzle pieces that fit together and make them such a powerful force together.”
“The only way that Walker can solve this crime is if he figures out a way to let go of himself so he can hear what Deena has to say,” Aubuchon explained. “Deena is very often the voice of reason, but she has her own issues to work through, and if she get can through those to work with Walker.”
“Let’s not forget about Deena’s father,” Oeming added.
“The murder of Retro Girl is really going to threaten the Powers Division itself. The whole house is going to be in danger because of this very impactful kill,” Edlund said. “It’s going to mean a lot to Cross and it’s going to mean a lot to everyone. That’s the big, big balloon threat that’s going to be fun to play with.”
At this point, Oeming completed his drawing and held it up for the camera, revealing that Super-Shock will be joining the second season of Powers.
“Super-Shock is the most powerful superhero in the ‘Powers’ universe,” Bendis explained. “With him comes a whole new set of problems and achievements. With Retro Girl’s death, Super-Shock comes out of wherever he’s been and we’ll discover a lot about the ‘Powers’ universe through him and Walker and Deena’s relationship.”
“This is the biggest superhero in the world. Superheroes were named after him. He never took an advertisement dollar, he never was in product placement. He kept it pure for decades and decades.”
Asked about the celebrity aspect of the “Powers” universe, Aubuchon responded, “I think that’s in the DNA of the comic book.”
“Way back in the day, we had an ‘E! True Hollywood Story,; and that was part of the blueprint,” Oeming added. “Now that Retro Girl is dead, we’re going to find out a lot of secrets — stuff that’s good, stuff that’s bad, and then we’re exploring this new character. We’re going to push that button pretty hard.”
Bendis also weighed in on how celebrity would affect the characters in this upcoming season. “I thought about those people who think, ‘Oh, I want to be famous! I want to be a superhero! I want to be an actor!’ And then they get there, and there’s a level that they just get… uncomfortable. They don’t want to be famous. ‘I thought I would want this, and I don’t.’ Success isn’t fame. Success is action, and then some people have to learn the hard way… That is part of Zora figuring out, ‘What part of this did I want?'”
“Our plan is to be within the boundaries of good taste, of course,” Aubuchon said. “One of the things that is amazing about being on a platform like PlayStation is that we have the chance to explore almost a completely new medium and figure out what exactly it is that works for that type of medium. We did a lot of experimenting, not all of it successful as we wanted it to be, but we’re really going to push the envelope with this season.”
“‘Powers’ is an independent comic,” Bendis added. “Marvel does publishing for us, but it’s independent, creator-owned, and we’re kind of like a rated R book. The sexual spectrum is part of the storylines, and that’s kind of what people who like the book like about it. It’s something else. It’s a different flavor. In television, it’s the exact same thing. There are a lot of shows in the genre, but none of them can do what we do, so we’re going to do it.
“‘Powers’ continues as a comic book,” Bendis continued. “For those of you who just watch the show, the comic is, like, seven years ahead. If you want to see a version of what happens to these characters, the comic book is available everywhere… We want them to breathe on their own. We want them to be a unique experience. It’s much like ‘Game of Thrones’… There’s a lot of value to that, and that should come first. If there’s a way to connect organically, sure.”
In response to a “Chaotic Chic” question, Aubuchon said, “At what point is it advantageous for Calista to reveal that at all? The other aspect of that is, ‘Is that actually the way Chaotic Chic was written in all the tags that Calista wrote down?’ Someone should look back at Season One over and over and over again, just to see.”
Howard then recounted her favorite moment from the last season. “There’s the moment when Walker and Deena have their moment at the end, when they’re battling Wolf and they have some very quick partner activity, when the crisis gets so high that they have to work together, otherwise everything is going to die. Sharlto [Copley] is so amazing to work with, and it’s fun to get to work together and be on the same team! That was a big moment for me, and looking at the possibilities of what could happen when we — the characters — work together.”
“For Calista’s character, I think it’s the last episode, when she’s standing on the precipice of the tower, about to jump off and hoping that she can fly,” Rulin shared. “At that point, she just doesn’t care anymore, and it’s just a wonderful release for that character to stand there confidently like, ‘Well, either I am or I’m not, but this is it.’ Coming to that completion… and feeling confident, because she’s gone through so much with Wolf and Johnny Royale and Walker and Deena. She kind of matured in that moment. That was really beautiful.”
“The way that Zora’s last stand went down, which had a very… David and Goliath thing… She’s got a very cool arc to set up,” Edlund added.
“My favorite moment is episode 1.06, during the memorial service,” Aubuchon shared. “First of all — there aren’t very many special effects in that episode at all, but it really shows the vulnerability of the Powers, and it shows the human side of the Powers and they they can also be affected by everything that human beings can be effected by, because they are human beings who just happen to have super powers.”
“I agree with Susan [Heyward],” Oeming said. “I really want to see the Walker/Deena stuff really kick into high gear.”
“I just hope there was a Simons somewhere, standing in the back,” Farb joked.
“Episode 6 was my favorite,” Bendis revealed. “Because the whole show took a leap forward in production value. The whole thing started looking better. It’s a fantastic ensemble with great leads, but we don’t get to see them in the same room because it’s the nature of the show… it was all the energy all together, like we had seen off camera and now we saw it on camera. My personal favorite thing, is when the credits roll and you see ‘created by’ me and Mike — I immediately go to how long we’ve done this together, and how we’re buds, we’re still friends, and we were friends through all of it… and you guy let us do that. It’s an amazing feeling.”
When Eddie Izzard’s name arose, Bendis responded immediately, “I miss him terribly already. At the first table reading in Atlanta, he showed up in full drag fabulousness, and it was everything you ever wanted out of him. He just showed up and he goes, ‘Well, I have turn into the lion of Wolf soon, so she needs to come out and say goodbye.’ And I’m like, ‘I just want you like that in the show all the time!’ I was a huge fan, and he ended up being the coolest guy.”
“He even taught me how to pronounce my name correctly,” Oeming said, recounting how Izzard explained the German roots of his name. “‘Oe’ is some sort of German; it’s called an umlet… He came up to me and called me a diphthong.”
“We often joked in the writer’s room last season that the greatest love story we were actually telling was between Walker and Johnny Royal,” Aubuchon said. “In many ways, it’s a very subtle moment, but it’s one of my favorite moments in [episode] 10; it’s their reconciliation of their relationship… There’s one moment where he said, ‘I was a terrible brother’ and Johnny Royale says, ‘No, you were a great brother!’ And that opened it up, and then they finally reconciled.”
When a fan asked if Super-Shock had been cast, Aubuchon replied, “Unfortunately, that’s still in the works. We were really, really hoping we’d have someone to announce, but it hasn’t happened yet; these things take time. I wish I had a better answer for that.”
“One of the wonderful things we have in television is we have actors who we get to play jazz with,” Aubuchon said. “When we’re actually writing, we throw stuff to Susan [Heyward] or Runlin and we see what they give, then that brings it back in and we start to modify that and go back and forth. Ultimately, at the end of the day, no matter if it’s a genre piece or a character drama, it’s still all character-driven. Character reigns in our writer’s room, at least… We’re all nerds in the room.”
Aubuchon also touched on the costumes worn on the show, explaining that designs were created “specifically for the show, influenced by the comic book… These guys [Bendis and Oeming] started writing it 10 years ago, so they had a specific purpose. We tried to take the essence of what they were and then how it translates when someone’s going to be walking around and lying around in it.”
When asked who she channeled to play the role of Deena, Heyward responded, “I’m channelling my dad and kind of the version of myself that I want to be. My dad is my superhero. He’s a peace-loving man, and bring someone who loves peace can be really hard because people don’t like peace… My voice is, I think, some of things he would say if he could. It’s sometimes things I would say if there was no consequences. Deena is someone who isn’t afraid of what someone else is going to do. She knows what she’s going to do, and that’s a really powerful thing to get to play with… Women get so pressured to just be pretty, just be nice, just make everyone feel good — to be true to everyone but themselves — so I really appreciate the opportunity to do that.”
“I think we’re looking at the comics as individual ingredients that the writers and producers can grab from here and there,” answered Oeming when asked how much the show would diverge from the comics. “So they don’t need to make up any crazy new characters; there’s plenty of stuff already.”
“That’s our plan,” Aubuchon agreed. “We’re taking the amazing material in the book… We won’t always do it exactly the way the plot is in the book, but it’ll always end up coming back to something familiar and it’ll always be true to the character.”
“There’s a kind of a sensibility about how we approach all the superhero tropes that come from the book and come from celebrity and power,” Edlund added. “There’s a caustic approach that’s a really interesting eye to put on this. It helps a lot.”
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