Today’s Super Comic — Powers #1 (2000)

For a stellar example of how to properly introduce readers to a new fictional world, see Powers #1 (the original).

Powers is a police procedural in a world of superheroes and villains, known as “powers.” The initial run of issues was excellent (I eventually lost track of the series due to that whole “I can’t read everything” problem).

The debut issue eases us in while immediately hooking us. We meet one of the two leads, Detective Christian Walker, as he’s negotiating a hostage situation, one where the criminal specifically requested him for reasons initially unknown. We hear both sides of the conversation, but the panels show only Walker’s side of a closed door—so right from the start, there’s more going on than we see. And it pays off with a nice reveal.

The other lead, Detective Deena Pilgrim, is also introduced in a visually one-sided conversation. She’s telling an entertaining anecdote to someone we don’t see, and the true punchline occurs as the subtext becomes text.

Brian Michael Bendis’s organic dialogue, as “directed” by Michael Avon Oeming’s art, carries us through the issue. Everything flows smoothly, and background details help build the world. No expository backstory bogs down the pace. They wisely save that for later. The goal of a first issue is to make us care, and that’s where they succeed.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Michael Avon Oeming

Publisher: Image Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY

Today’s Super Comic — The Walking Dead #100 (2012)

I’ll admit that the TV show has burned me out on The Walking Dead. The show peaked with its superb pilot, and after many ups and down, I gave up after the seventh-season premiere.

The comic book series it’s based on, however, was far more consistent in quality for far longer. It held my attention for 24 trade paperbacks, and I wouldn’t say it ever got bad. I just needed a break from this particular post-apocalyptic world for a while. I might very well check back in at some point.

The book deserves recognition, though. It remains the greatest zombie-related story I’ve ever experienced, and it succeeds by focusing not on the zombies, but on the survivors.

The zombies—I mean walkers, or any euphemism other than zombies—the walkers quickly fade into set dressing, albeit lethal set dressing. People prove far more dangerous, especially without the civilizing influence of society. The zombie damage has already been done, and this is all about what comes after—that’s the true cleverness in writer Robert Kirkman’s concept. And Charlie Adlard’s black-and-white art sets the mood wonderfully. It’s the rare comic book that benefits from a lack of color.

The comic is a master class in tension. The characterization isn’t deep, but we come to care about several key players just enough that we don’t want to see them die…but we know most will, some sooner and some later. It’s just a matter of when.

The important thing about tension…you have to release it at exactly the right moments or it will start deflating on its own and lose all its potency. And that brings us to issue #100, which inspired the final episode of season six and the first episode of season seven. It’s Negan’s big introduction, and Lucille’s big introduction.

Many of the characters we most care about are lined up before Negan, like in the TV show, and we know he’s going to kill one. But whereas the TV show faded to black for the length of a hiatus right after Negan struck his unidentified victim (and had its viewers playing guessing games for months), the comic shows us who dies that very issue.

We get that release, but the death builds up new tension, because we know this is only the start of a new threat for the survivors. It’s not about the guessing games; it’s about the danger and the struggle to persevere in spite of that danger.

Writer: Robert Kirkman

Artist: Charlie Adlard

Publisher: Image Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in The Walking Dead vol. 17: Something to Fear (TPB)

Appropriate For: ADULTS ONLY