Brian Michael Bendis says Powers is “a real show with a big cast and big budget” that he’s approaching like a ten-chapter crime novel.
Yesterday at the New York Comic-Con panel for Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s Powers, a packed theater full of fans got their first look at how the upcoming Playstation television series will both remain faithful to, and diverge sharply from, the long-running comic. In addition, the show’s inaugural trailer was debuted, along with a brief clip from the show itself.
“This has been fourteen years coming,” Bendis said as he introduced the trailer.
Moderated by Geoff Keighley, the panel was also attended by five other cast members: Logan Browning (Zora), Olesya Rulin (Calista), Susan Heyward (Deena Pilgrim), Noah Taylor (superpowered gangster Johnny Royalle), and finally Eddie Izzard (Wolfe), whose appearance was met with thunderous applause. Sharito Copley, who stars as ex-superhero Christian Walker, couldn’t be at the panel; instead, he recorded a brief video message for the audience. “Hope you guys enjoy what you saw of Powers,” Copley said in part.
Bendis explained the concept for those who haven’t kept up with the comic. “Powers is about homicide detectives… who work cases specific to the world of powers,” he said. Dead superheroes and supervillains–these cases all fall to the Powers department. The comic, and now the show, mix the genres of superheroes and crime fiction, with each case presented “from the dead body on up. “It’s rated R, sometimes a hard R,” he later said when Keighley pointed out the trailer’s edginess. Presumably, being on PlayStation instead of network TV has allowed Bendis to keep that edge present, F-bombs, blow job jokes, and all.
According to Bendis, Sony approached him with the idea of adapting the superhero crime comic as the first-ever Playstation television series. Addressing the untested format and, perhaps, obliquely nodding to the fact that the series was originally supposed to be a FX production starring Jason Patrick, Bendis was adamant that this series is as legitimate as it gets. “Some people don’t understand, because it’s a new thing, that this is a real show with a big cast and big budget,” he said. He added that showrunner Charlie Huston, whom Bendis calls an “amazing novelist,” is coming at Powers like a ten-chapter crime novel.
Bendis made it clear that the PlayStation show wouldn’t be a “word-for-word” adaptation of the comic. “They’re two mediums,” he said. “That never works.” The show is its own entity, though it will liberally use elements from the comic that the production team believes will make great television.
It was revealed during the panel that the last two episodes of Powers‘ ten-episode initial run are about to be written, and a very short teaser (which won’t be made available online) was shown to give “a little taste of what to expect.” In the brief clip, Walker jokes about how the exchange of fluids back when he was a Power could sometimes unexpectedly give his partners super powers, which is met with a deadpan response from Deena. Bendis explained later that for Walker, being a police officer is a more heroic gesture than he made as a Power, but that doesn’t mean he’s a great cop; he just knows a lot about the superhero world.
It’s clear from how the panelists discussed their characters that a generational divide will be central to the show. Regarding Deena Pilgrim, who comes into the Powers division after working as a police officer, Heyward described her as “kind of looking for a new home.” She felt like she could relate with trying to find a place where you can be yourself, which was met with agreement from the audience. Deena, Heyward said, has “all the different layers” and “insecurities” that she carries with her, but she’s still strong.
Rulin, who plays Calista, discussed her character’s vulnerability; every male figure on the show is a father figure for her, and “I cry a lot,” Rulin said. Calista is one of two characters who represents “the younger generation” on the show. And for her part, Browning said that when she first joined the Powers cast as Zora, “I didn’t realize this thing I was doing was part of this big, beautiful project.” Like Calista, Zora represents a younger generation, and Bendis compared the 25-year-old actress to her character: “Just as Logan’s discovering what this world is, Zora’s discovering what her world is.” Zora’s got a great natural aptitude, but doesn’t know what she’s capable of “in terms of the impact she can have on the world.” She wants to be a hero.
Bendis confirmed that Zora is the character most changed from the book, where she’s already one of the great with a connection to Walker stretching back many decades. In the show, she’s just discovering her powers and what they can do. She represents the paths that are in front of any young adult, and the “forces pulling at you.”
Though Michelle Forbes, who plays Retro Girl, couldn’t join the panel, Bendis said the production is “thrilled” that she’s joined the cast. Describing Retro Girl as a superhero who’s been around forever, her fame within the show allowed them to incorporate some of the visuals of the comic. Art in Retro Girl’s house and other displays of her fame were made by Michael Avon Oeming, the comic’s artist and co-creator. Oeming joined the stage and called being involved with the show “very awesome;” “It’s like watching your kids grow up.” He said he can’t draw the characters without thinking of the actors now.
Johnny Royalle was described by Taylor as a “smooth devil, fiendishly brilliant criminal mastermind.”. He called Powers “much richer” than similar genre stories, adding “You’re only as good as the people you’re opposite” in praise of his castmates. Wolfe, on the other hand is “fucked up as hell,” according to Eddie Izzard. He’s dark but charming, as well as being really powerful. “There’s been blood already,” Izzard says, even though “I’ve only done two scenes.” Izzard said that just as the audience is finding out about these characters and what they’re all about, “we’re finding out about us.” He then sang a bit of “Sad Mona Lisa,” comparing the lyrics to Wolfe. Izzard said he’s been free to give Wolfe his own artistic direction, and likens having super powers in Powers‘ “fucked-up world” to society’s obsession with celebrities in our own: “We can’t get outside celebrity, it’s so part of us. It just exists.”
Though the Q&A portion was kept short due to time constraints, the audience learned that, like in the comics, there will be flashbacks to Walker’s previous life. As for whether or not characters were going to “pop in” before having bigger roles in the future, as happens in the comics? “That’s one of the big differences between the show and the book,” Bendis said. He explained that there are background actors who might have bigger roles in the future, but no one’s popping in and out.
Someone asked how to get into Powers, knowing nothing about it.”The good thing is that millions of people have a PlayStation,” Bendis said, reminding the audience that the first episode will be free. “I think the point from PlayStation’s point of view is they would like people to have a PlayStation.”
Though the audience didn’t see enough of the show to get a real sense of its quality, there are reasons to be optimistic and excited. The sexually and racially diverse cast is refreshing; having the book’s creators on board with the entire process is also a plus. The impression I got was that being on PlayStation gave Bendis and Huston more freedom to maintain the book’s edge, so it will be really interesting to see how Sony’s first foray into original programming pans out. Powers is set to premiere in December 2014, exclusively on the PlayStation Network.