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Deja Vu Surprise: Powers #6 [Review]

One of the hallmarks of serialized drama — including comics — is the cliffhanger reveal ending, where in the final moments of the narrative a revelatory new piece of information is revealed. It’s become a standard ploy in serialized prime-time television, with millions of people over the past few years regularly responding to the conclusion of a “Lost” episode by cursing and throwing things at the television as the screen faded to black, followed by the title and the credits.

Brian Michael Bendis has become a modern day master practitioner of this strategy in most of the books he writes, and it shows up again in this week’s sixth issue of the re-launched “Powers.”

I’m sure the tradition dates back to a musty cave some time long before recorded history when Grag Who-Draws-on-Walls led a group to see his latest mural, only to extinguish the torchlight when it momentarily fell on an image of the presumed dead Thak Who-Throws-Spears-with-Above-Average-Accuracy and then promising to explain Thak’s reappearance through a painting that would be completed next full moon. Or by the full moon after that at the latest, no, really this time.

And sometimes it works, because it’s both so appropriate and out of left field at once that the shock and joy it evokes is rewarding and it generates enough excitement to last until the next issue’s out. But sometimes, like in this issue, it doesn’t. Because everyone knows the reveal is coming, because the trick’s been used once too often recently, and because after being teased with the expectation of getting answers it begins to become tiring.

The last issue of “Powers” ended on a cliffhanger. Detective Christian Walker had hit a low point and his partner, Detective Enki Sunrise, found him drinking his sorrows away in a bar. The last page revealed that the two were being watched by Deena Pilgrim, Walker’s former partner who’d disappeared and had not been shown in the series’ recent relaunch until that moment. The last panel included the text “Next: Guess Who’s Back?” And once more in issue 6 she makes a surprise appearance on the last page of the issue as a cliffhanger reveal. And that’s it.

We get a little more information about what Deena’s up to in that last page than we did last time around, but essentially this issue is ending in the exact same way the last one did, and pulling that trick two issues in a row makes the book feel stagnant, like it’s treading water until the information the audience thought it was getting is actually revealed. More to the point, it’s not an effective last page cliffhanger, from a narrative standpoint, because it’s not surprising. We knew Deena was going to make a return this issue, thanks to last issue’s reveal and this issue’s cover. We get only a basic one-sentence explanation of why she’s back and not much more than a panel reaction from the other characters surprised to see her return.

I wouldn’t be so disappointed by this issue if I hadn’t really enjoyed the return of “Powers” up until this point. But issue 6 feels like it doesn’t do much to move the story along or reveal anything about the characters. There’s an extended superhero fight scene where Walker and the new Retro-Girl save the world from an unspeakable horror trapped deep within an ancient temple, but while it looks gorgeous it feels out of place. “Powers” is at its best when it’s a police procedural series with character studies of people who happen to have superpowers. When it just turns into a book where people with superpowers have standard superhero fights it moves away from what makes it stand out from ordinary superhero books.

This issue consists of an unrelated opening murder scene with a few furry jokes, the fight scene, and another scene that sets up an upcoming plot and Deena’s return. Honestly, what was necessary to keep the story moving could have been reduced to five pages at most. There’s an ideal balance of delivering plot now and dangling the promise of more to come in the future, and this issue doesn’t hit that.

Maybe if Bendis hadn’t been using this same narrative device over and over again in every Avengers title he’s writing it wouldn’t bother me so much this time. Or maybe if it didn’t involve waiting another month or two for the full return of Deena, a character I admittedly miss as she’s my favorite in the series, it wouldn’t have been such a big deal. But after five solid issues of the rebooted “Powers,” it just feels like I’m being strung along with a few scenes and a stinger to bring me back to buy the next issue. And while that’s something that’ll make sure readers come back to find out what happens next month, it’s the literary equivalent of staring at a plate of food you just finished only to find that you’re exactly as hungry as you were before you ate it. If that keeps happening you eventually look for something more satisfying elsewhere.

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