This week, PlayStation Network's Powers returns for a second season -- and a new enthusiasm, according to co-creator and executive producer Brian Michael Bendis. Described as a "do over" to correct some of the perceived slights in the show's first season, Powers now begins with new title credits drawn by co-creator Michael Avon Oeming and a new take on the series by Bendis and showrunner Rémi Aubuchon.
As Sony releases the first three episodes of the new season, Newsarama asked Bendis for his thoughts and experiences from Season One, the ways these televised adaptations impact the comics from which they originated, and some of the exciting changes viewers can expect with this next season.
Newsarama: Based on what we see in the first episode of the new season, it looks like we’re starting to catch up to where the comics series started?
Brian Michael Bendis: Yeah! It’s kind of nice how it just worked out that way. And now, of course, we can begin to bring more of the comic book aesthetic into the show.
Nrama: I noticed that right away in the opening credits. I’m guessing that’s Mike Oeming’s work that we’re seeing?
Bendis: Yeah, he worked with the production house. The idea was to come up with something that was the perfect mix of television and the comics. I thought they nailed it. The one thing that really bothered me last season was the opening credit sequence – I’ll go on record with that – and I was so happy with this new one, which is what the show’s about.
Nrama: Dipping back into our last interview about Powers's first season, we talked a little bit about the journey of bringing this creator-owned book to the small screen. Now that the first season is in the can and the second season is getting underway, I’m curious about the lessons you learned – either individually or collectively?
Bendis: Well, this happens on any TV show where there are things where you see something and realize what you can do differently. The thing is that they started off by hiring really excellent actors, but as things got underway and they began to get settled into their roles, you start to see them bring their own experiences and ideas to the roles. You also see how they interact with the other actors.
These become some truly wonderful things that we would get to write into and it inspires all kinds of new stories and dynamics. It’s something different than in comics. In comics, the characters kind of take over, but in television, it’s the people who embody those characters who take over. It makes you want to write in the relationships you see on set. If someone’s busting someone else’s balls all day, you want to try and find a way to capture that in the story as well. That’s the first big thing we learned on set.
The second thing, Rémi Aubuchon and I really partnered together to approach this next season as a “do over.” It’s something we’ll want to do in every season – how can we continue to move the story forward while blowing the roof off the place? So, we made some significant hires behind the scenes. I think you can even see it from the trailer. We hired a phenomenal cinematographer as well as an amazing production designer – someone who worked on The Shield – one of the best cop shops going. We also have Joss Whedon’s costume designer and Harrison Ford’s stunt coordinator. Everyone behind the scenes is just … a top flight sort of person. And immediately, you see giant differences in the costumes, lighting, and overall design aesthetic.
Nrama: Would you say this was done to help continue translating the comic book aesthetic into the television format?
Bendis: One of the things Rémi said was that Mike’s comic book storytelling style was very “in your face” – almost gonzo! It’s right there! We need to capture that. And I explained to him that this is what a lot of comic artists do stylistically, but he just didn’t see any other shows using that same sort of aesthetic to tell their story.
So, this was a series of discussions we had with the crew, as well as the cast, when we told them that we were really going to be in their faces with the camera. And we were really going to try and capture a television version of that aesthetic. But our cinematographer’s work on Torchwood and Banshee, which are very stylish shows, made us confident he’d be able to pull it off. He brought it! I also wanted to make sure we had the right palette, which I was very concerned with. It turns out he was definitely someone I could go full-out nerd with about all of this because he got it.
Nrama: One of the challenges we spoke about before was that you wanted to ensure people understood this was a real television show. Now, Sony had to see something to what you and Mike helped create and the rest of the cast and crew brought to life, as they are now releasing the second season! But overall, what would you say the reception has been compared to what you were hoping for?
Bendis: Honestly, what I like the most is that word of mouth really carried us across the finish line. It’s the same as with comics. And this is what got us our second season of Powers. We can hype, and hype, and hype, but people with their PlayStation accounts tuned in, and they told their friends to watch it. It’s funny because the same sort of thing happened with the comic as well.
People like superheroes, but sometimes, they want to try something a little different. We’re the other flavor of superhero that you’re looking for. That’s what we are in the comics, and that’s what I wanted the show to be. We are not The Flash. And that word of mouth took off and started to really happen.
Nrama: Can you talk about the viewership numbers?
Bendis: We were getting our numbers back from PlayStation and we were building an audience every day. Tens of thousands of people were tuning in and then just binge watching the show every day. As the season progressed, people hung in there. By Episode Six from the first season, there’s this really gigantic leap forward in terms of the quality, and people were rewarded for sticking with it. It was a really strong half of the season, and I have to tell you, that’s right where we’re picking up with Season Two. I’m excited for people who were with us before as we make another giant leap forward, as well as those who may be tuning in for the first time just because they liked Jessica Jones. They’re going to be in for a treat, as we made it as viewer-friendly as possible.
You know this, Forrest, but a hit comic book can sell 30,000. But for a television show to stay on the air, it needs millions of viewers. If you look only at our trailer on YouTube, it has well-over 5,000,000 views! That’s powerful, and this is just something that I’m so not used to from having worked in comics. And I’ve had some comics that have sold really well, but the difference between that and a worldwide audience seeing your TV show is huge.
Nrama: You mention about trying to keep it accessible for the viewers who haven’t seen the first season but might have read the original series. What other storylines from the comics are we going to see show up in one form or another?
Bendis: Well, everything that that happens on the show originates from something somewhere in the comics. Of course, you’re going to change some elements to make it a better show. Calista’s character becoming Retro Girl is something we didn’t do until year six in the comics. And that’s simply a matter of having this amazing actress right there and we want to give her something interesting to do. It’s also something where I’m looking back and thinking to myself “If I were to do it all over again, I’d probably tell this part of the story right here versus waiting as long as I did.”
Yeah, everyone in the writers’ room would pull out stuff they liked from the comics. Even Sharlto Copley! Sharlto came to me with a list of things that he loved from the comics, and he wanted to see if we could get them done in the show this season. And Episode 9, that I wrote, is literally a checklist of things that we wanted to do.
But on top of little pieces and elements that we wanted to get in there, the biggest story arc that we bring into Season Two is that of Super-Shock: the greatest superhero of all time reappearing into the world of Powers after being absent for a long time. And no one knows what to do or make of him. I don’t want to spoil anything, but we gave Michael Madsen a big, meaty role that he was really excited about. So, not only do we have the “Who Killed Retro Girl?” story taking place, but there’s also this piece with Super-Shock that’s going to showcase why we’re different from everybody else.
Nrama: Shifting gears a bit, there’s this discussion that’s always playing out in the world of comics: Are the viewers from mass media coming over to the comics? You have a comic book series that’s been around for a long while now, and moving into your second season on Powers, I’m curious if you’ve noticed an uptick in people becoming comic book readers?
Bendis: Yes, absolutely, yes! Marvel constantly has to keep reprinting the first volumes of the series. And this is something where bookstores really seem to step up their game almost faster than many comic book stores. They saw how many people have PS4 consoles, that people were watching the show, and they realized they should continually keep that book in stock. These aren’t numbers that are public like Diamond, but then again, they’re just a part of the market. Most of the market isn’t known to everyone, and it’s something I’ve been saying for years!
I can tell you without being “braggy,” but Jessica Jones benefitted tremendously from the show. More people are reading it now than when it first came out. And Powers is right there! We’re talking about a trade that’s been available for over fifteen years is selling like it’s a brand new thing. We even put an issue on PlayStation.com for free just to help people connect the dots.
I mean look: There are always going to be people who aren’t going to read anything. I don’t worry about them. There’s nothing I can do about that. But when people say “There were a billion people who saw Civil War but only a million people read the comic book!” I still have to say “That’s still a lot!!!” I can point to numerous places where there have been ridiculous shifts in numbers. Even when a show or movie is announced we’ll see those numbers move up. And it’s not just print but digitally as well. There are just some people who don’t know comic book stores exist but they can find an app that will let them explore these worlds.
Nrama: I know we need to wrap things up, but given how Sony’s gotten behind you and Mike with the release of this second season of Powers, do you have any other plans to bring other creator-owned series to the small screen?
Bendis: I can’t say much right now – I don’t want to get into pre-announcements to our announcements [laughs], but we’ve really enjoyed working together with Sony on Powers and are open to collaborating on future projects.