First Three Episodes Now Available on the PlayStation Network (PSN)
Review by Jonathan Wolk
First a little background. If you have not read the seminal “Creator Owned” comic series Powers, by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Avon Oeming, you have missed one of the truly great books from the first decade of the 21st-century. However, you will not be missing anything in the new PSN television series (the first original series created for streaming on Sony’s fledgling network) “Powers”. If you have read the series, the pilot episode will feel familiar yet unfamiliar. The first three episodes of the series are available on PSN, with the remaining six episodes becoming available weekly through April 28th, 2015.
“Powers” started in 2000 at Image Comics and moved to Marvel Comics’ Icon imprint in 2004. The story follows Detective Christian Walker of the LAPD’s Powers Division, and his new partner Deena Pilgrim as they work to handle crimes that are associated with super powered individuals, referred to as “Powers”. It is a brilliant combination of classic crime noir, police procedural, and of course super powered people (or Powers). Detectives Walker and Pilgrim handle everything from petty crimes, committed by pickpockets who can teleport away, to the murder of a very prominent retired super-heroine. There have been other books that have tackled the subject matter since Powers debuted, but this was the first and still the best in my opinion.
Detective Christian Walker, portrayed by Sharlto Copley (District 9, Chappie), does not look much like his comic book counterpart. Where the Detective Walker of the comic is a mountain of a man, square jawed, brooding and has an intimidating presence, his television counterpart is much more average and rugged looking. Some of the brooding is there but, aside from that, the difference can be visually jarring for a fan of the books at first. Copley makes this role work because by the end of the first episode I was able to completely buy into the idea that he is Walker.
Plenty of people have written about some of the “interesting” or “curious” casting choices such as Copley as Christian Walker and, particularly due to the cross racial casting, Susan Heyward as Deena Pilgrim. However if you put a screen shot of Ms. Heyward side-by-side with Oeming’s images of Deena from the comics she looks dead on as the character, skin tone aside. She captures the attitude of the character perfectly and race simply does not affect the personality of the character. There are some other casting choices of note, Including the always amazing Eddie Izzard (The Riches, Hannibal) as “Big Bad” Wolfe, Noah Taylor (Peaky Blinders, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as Johnny Royalle, and Michelle Forbes (Orphan Black, True Blood) as Retro Girl.
Right from the start of the episode, directed by David Slade, readers of the source material will see that Powers diverges from the original comic book story lines in several ways. Viewers are told from the very first scenes that Detective Walker is the former hero Diamond who lost his powers in a battle with another Power named “Wolfe” before becoming a detective in the LAPD Powers Division. In addition, in the book, the use of powers are completely illegal and superheroes have been banned. However, in the world of the television show we see and hear heroes and villains flying around and having battles, despite the fact that the public use of powers are apparently still a crime. These two seemingly simple changes actually have a deep and powerful impact on the very nature of the world in which our intrepid detectives work and provide just enough uncertainty for readers of the books to keep things interesting.
The alterations to the story line and characters from the original book didn’t bother me at all. The feel of the show, while some of the dialogue and interactions felt a little stiff at times, definitely felt like the atmosphere of the book. That being said, I usually have a three-episode-rule about any new series, and I will probably need at least two more episodes to really make a judgment on this series, but I can honestly say that I look forward to the next two episodes.
So as to keep this review spoiler free I won’t go too much into the story itself but suffice it to say that Detective Walker needs a new partner and he is assigned Detective Pilgrim. Their first case together involves the death of a former super heroine under questionable circumstances. That is as close as the show gets to the original source material as the story takes some interesting turns.
Overall, I enjoyed it and I recommend you watch the pilot and then decide if it fits for you. I am hoping to see some growth in the characters and the development of some chemistry between Detectives Walker and Pilgrim as they work together and learn each others’ personalities. While there are a lot of story elements in this pilot episode that were not revealed until much later in the comic series I can understand why they chose to go that way. I look forward to seeing where these characters go and how much they stick to, and diverge from, the original source material. The pilot episode is rated TV-MA and is now available and free to watch on the PlayStation Network. To re-iterate, the first three episodes are available now and the rest of the series is free to watch if you have a PlayStation Plus account. Otherwise you can buy a season subscription or purchase it per episode in case you’re not sure you’re going to stick with it all the way.