The POWERS That Be: BENDIS & OEMING On TV Debut

Cast of 'Powers'
Credit: Sony Television
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Powers TV Series advertisement
Credit: Playstation

On March 10, be prepared to enter a world that looks like our own but behaves in ways altogether different: A world with Powers. Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s creator-owned series finally hits the small screen through Sony’s PlayStation Network as the first of its own, unique programming.

Bendis tells Newsarama that "It's an exciting time" with Powers right now, and here on the eve of its debut we talked with him and Oeming about the television series, what elements translated over from the comic, what's new, and also what comes next for the original comic series.

Newsarama: It’s been a long and convoluted ride for you both in terms of bringing Powers to the small screen. How did you finally land the deal with Sony?

Brian Michael Bendis: The fact that there’s a show that’s happening at the end of this ride is what makes it worth it. If there wasn’t, it’d be a real bummer, wouldn’t it? [laughs]

I feel immensely grateful that the show is here, it’s good, and it’s both faithful to and different from the source material. I’m doing all of this standing right next to Mike, and we’re closer now than when we started. And that doesn’t always happen with creators. But the best part of it was half-hugging Mike while jumping up and down on the set. It was a very good feeling. I mean, every experience behind the scenes has been excellent.

Nrama: Bringing this show to the PlayStation Network is a pretty unique approach to delivering this series to viewing audiences. What led you to take Powers this way versus more traditional programming?

Bendis: The only thing I was worried about was telling people and getting them to understand it was a real show. You know, when we tell them it’s on Sony PlayStation and they ask if it’s a real show. But the thing is, the mainstream audience who would be watching a show like this got it right away. “Amazon makes shows, Netflix makes shows, no problem.”

This thing is that so many college kids are unplugged. They only get their television from the web or consoles, so that worry went away very quickly. So I’m grateful to these other outlets that have opened up the door to getting TV this way.

Credit: Sony Television

Now, Sony optioned us from the second issue. They’ve always been a part of Powers. They’ve always believed in us. They never let the option lapse. They believe in the idea. So, when we moved over to Sony Television, we met Chris Parnell [Senior VP of Sony Television], who has been shepherding us the whole time. We ended up in the lap of someone who is quite honestly our biggest fan! I remember him telling us “Not only are we putting this on air, we’re putting this on our own air!”

The people who’ve been believing in you from the get go…absolutely, it’s the right place. You want to be with the people who believe in you. It’s the same thing with Marvel. I lucked out as I was hired by people who genuinely like my writing and are genuinely hoping for the best for me. And that’s with life stuff – not just because I’m going to be able to sell stuff.

Sony genuinely likes Powers. And when you get older in life and you meet people like that who believe in you and your work, you give back. They believe in you, and you believe in them. So, it was very easy to “hook a wagon” up to this because they’ve always been supportive. Loyalty! Can you imagine such a thing exists? [Laughs]

Nrama: [Laughs] Rumors abound! Now, I understand the show will now be available to all consumers regardless of whether they own a Sony PlayStation, correct?

Bendis: That’s right. As long as you’re … “involving yourself” in Sony’s life, they’d love for you to watch the show. It’s the best of both worlds. People with their PlayStation Plus accounts get the Powers show absolutely free, or you just buy it ala carte!

Nrama: A perk for the “premium” members but accessible for everyone else in the same way as House of Cards or Daredevil on Netflix.

Bendis: Yes, exactly. We want to make sure as many people who want to see it can see it. And the first episode is free to anyone who wants to see it. If you have a PlayStation? Boom. You can see it. If you just have a television or computer screen? Boom. You can see it.

What I think people are going to be charmed by is that it’s not like a traditional television pilot. Instead, it’s more like chapter one of ten. There isn’t all of that clunky exposition and stuff that you need to sell your story. It can just bring you right in. It’s something Charlie Huston was thrilled about, as it felt more like a traditional crime novel than the more conventional TV pilot route.

Nrama: Brian, you’ve been pretty vocal about your involvement in producing the show through social media and other news outlets. Was there ever any question you’d be as knee-deep into getting this show up and running as you are now?

Bendis: Not on my end. [laughs] To be very clear, I'm not the show runner and the show runner’s job is like a 15-hour a day job. My job is part-time but very vigilante. I dive in when and where I am needed. But the experience has been absolutely fascinating and that's what I was looking for. As you get older you realize that collecting experiences is a very special thing. And as for as everyone involved in the show they were very gracious and sometimes eager for my help, which is what I was hoping for.

Going through dailies, giving notes on every cut of the show, every draft of the scripts… it is a lot of work but nowhere near the amount of work that Charlie  and Remi Aubuchon had in front of them every day.

Credit: Sony Television

Nrama: Mike, what sort of involvement have you had in terms of helping to produce this show as co-creator of Powers

Michael Avon Oeming: As well as my input to the scripts and casting, I’ve been doing lots of art for the show. Charlie Huston and Brian made sure I was a component of production from day one, so I’m not a producer just in credit, but in execution. We also came up with rules for the art- all the art of the comic within the show is done by our friends like Mike Allred, David Mack and David Marquez. I’m doing the art for cartoons within the show, and product placement for Retro Girl as well as incidental art such as tattoos, shirts and logos. I’m also doing all the art for one of the characters, Krispin (Max Fowler), who is an aspiring comic book artist within the show. It’s an honor not only to have this show happening, but to be this involved.

Nrama: What sort of changes to the original series can we expect to encounter? Any teases?

Bendis: Well, the first trade paperback is entitled “Who Killed Retro Girl?” and clearly, you can see that she is alive and well on the show. So there's that. [Laughs]

Honestly, I think Charlie did a very good job cherry picking the things from the comic that would make the best television show, and from there, he was able to build the television show that he wanted to make. It was very shrewd.

Nrama: There were also some rumblings about casting when those announcements were made some time ago particularly with Deena and Christian – her race and his stature. Are there other changes you have in store for fans?

Oeming: I’ve only ever wanted the best actors, not carbon copies of the comic. In our case, Walker and Deena are not deeply iconic, so we have a freedom to play with that. The costumes are different, but I’m happy to see those are staying very anchored by the comic. Triphammer had to change lots because he was originally a comment on Iron Man in 1999. Since then, Iron Man has been reborn several times, so we really had to change our Triphammer take. And I love it! Andrew Sensenig is killing it- all of our cast is, but Andrew literally had to rebuild Triphammer.

Nrama: Now, some critics argue that television and cinema are being saturated by superheroes. On the other hand, viewers also have a plethora of options when it comes to crime procedurals. Is Powers yet another entry in the field of superhero shows and films? How do you see it offering something new for audiences?

Bendis: It's a cop show. It's not a superhero show. Just like the comic. The comic is a cop drama. Always has been. It takes place in a world with superheroes so that element is very important but there's a big difference between a superhero show with cops in it and a cop show with superheroes in it. We stay on the ground.

If anything, I think, like the comic is, I think we are a very interesting antidote for a more sophisticated viewer looking for something else from either genre.

Credit: Sony Television

Nrama: What are some of the difficulties or challenges you (collectively and individually) faced with putting the pilot for Powers together?

Bendis: Yeah, tone and balance! And this goes for more than just television but comics as well. Trying to find that right balance of flavor. The right chemistry, too! You can write your little ass off, but if the actors don’t have the chemistry, it’s just not going to work. There’s a lot of “X-Factor” in the world. Look, if everyone knew the rules to television, they’d just do it all the time. There’s this, how would you say… energy, spirituality, and magic that has to happen. The idea that it’s a cop show and not a superhero show with cops in it was a struggle for some. But it’s a cop show.

You know, there was a lot of stuff we learned from the FX pilot. There was a lot of stuff in there that worked. That’s why they didn’t let it go right away, so we were able to look at that and make some really educated choices. Some of the sketches we could look at and perhaps go and do it differently. And let me tell you, it was very different! There are some similarities, obviously, but tonally? It’s very different. And if it wasn’t for that first pilot, we wouldn’t have gotten Charlie. It all happened for a reason.

It’s very interesting opening a world that is just like our world only there are superheroes in it. So, how would we treat those superheroes? Making sure people understood it was just our world only with superheroes – that’s all you need to know. Anything else you need to know, you’ll find out as the cases unfold. Every case peels back another layer of the world, and that has this an unending store of possibilities for stories we can tell.

Nrama: So … what might some of those possibilities be?

Bendis: We’re in the fifteenth year of the book, and I have a notebook of ideas that I haven’t even gotten to yet! I’m truly grateful that there is something to these characters where there is this limitless amount of storytelling potential.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Nrama: That’s encouraging as I sit and look at my bookshelf with each of the Powers: Definitive Hardcover Collection volumes, and there’s still space left to fill!

Bendis: Let me tell you about a crazy thing that happened! I was cleaning up all of the different Sony documents on my computer, and I found a file that said “Powers Ideas – 2004,” and 90% of them were great and I haven’t used a single one! It was like a time capsule or as if someone can from the future and handed me a list of story ideas that were great for either the show or the book! I almost cried I was so excited! 

Nrama: Brian, elsewhere you discussed your impressions of the subsequent episodes that the later ones were even better than the pilot. What about them continued to reel you in?

Bendis: Episode six is probably my favorite one of the series to date. And you see this on TV shows where the actors find extra levels, and everyone kind of eases into their roles. Now that we’ve made our introductions, we can start to write deeper. When people think of all the great things from series like The Shield, West Wing or Seinfeld, it’s not the first couple of episodes. It’s a few episodes in or not until the second season until we get into the really good stuff.

What you want is the season to get better as it goes on and not plateau or even tank, which we’ve all seen happen. That Episodes six, eight, and ten all keep getting better and better, well, that just leads to a really good feeling - and a huge relief! Because, let’s be honest, you just don’t know until it’s all put together. But yeah, Episode six is what made me really think this could go on for multiple seasons.

Nrama: What is the one moment from the show that caused your jaws to drop?

Oeming: There are some Eddie Izzard moments that need their own reel of outtakes, both funny and draw dropping crazy scary. He’s part Chaplin, part Aphex Twin video.

Credit: Sony Television

Nrama: I also hear speculation Sony has greenlit a second season already. Can you say anything about that?

Bendis: Not yet. Fingers crossed. Believe me, when they do, I won't shut up about it. [laughs]

Nrama: You’re also rebooting your creator-owned Powers comics. What led you to this decision versus simply picking up where you last left off?

Bendis: I don't see it as any kind of reboot. It literally picks up from the end of the last volume. I look at it like seasons of a TV show. I think of it a lot like the way they look at Mad Men or the way they looked at The Shield. We take some time in between seasons, and every season has a very specific purpose and theme.

Also, we've been around a long time and whole generations of comic readers pass through. I think there's nothing wrong with letting new and interested readers know where a safe place to hop on is.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Nrama: For readers who haven’t picked up the first issue of the new volume, released back on January 21st, what can they expect to encounter? If you aren’t resetting the Powers universe, what will see going on?

Bendis: Right. Nothing gets reset. We open our book with a new chapter in the lives of our detectives. Walker has hit a very specific bottom while Deena has found unusual success in her book becoming a bestseller. Maybe even a cultural bestseller.

The detectives are faced with an unsolvable crime and the fact that the amount of super-powered people has increased dramatically. There is chaos in the streets, and lots of bodies piling up.

Oeming: Look for some fun cameos! I put our friends Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, David Walker, Scott Allie and even my son in there.

Nrama: As the show and the comics get underway, do you see the comics reflecting what’s taking place in the show, will the show reflect the comics, or are they going to end up becoming two different entities akin to what is now beginning to happen with Image Comics’ and AMC’s The Walking Dead?

Oeming: I can tell you it’s given the comic even more life, just that much more to react to and play off. We already had a good five or so years left in us, but now it feels like we’ve added another 15 years of ideas.

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