Good things come to those who wait, and Powers co-creator Brian Michael Bendis has been waiting an awfully long time to see his creator-owned comic come to the small screen. In fact, an adaptation of the superhero crime procedural has been in the works for more than a decade since Sony Pictures first optioned the property back in 2001. Ten years later, a pilot starring Jason Patric, Lucy Punch, and Charles S. Dutton was produced for FX, but it never made it to series. Finally, last March, Sony announced that it would be retooling the superhero story for the PlayStation Network, a first for the gaming giant, and a bold entry into the scripted content arena in an effort to compete with other streaming content services.
Today, Bendis is finally able to see the fruits of his labor as Powers makes its PlayStation Network debut. Though a tad exposition-heavy, the first episode–which you can watch for free online–offers up a searing potboiler of a superhero story, one that is decidedly R-rated. Powers plays out a bit like what Gotham desperately wants to be–a gritty crime story set in a world of superheroes, but not solely focused on them. Our heroes are former hero-turned-detective Christian Walker (Sharlto Copley) and his feisty new partner Deena Pilgrim (Susan Heyward), who work for the Powers division of the LAPD, which is tasked with policing the superpowered individuals that populate their world. It is by turns grimy and gripping, and most certainly worth your while.
In celebration of the newly minted series, I caught up with Brian Michael Bendis and showrunner Charlie Huston about what to expect from the new adaptation, where it fits in the modern superhero TV landscape, and whether or not we’ll be seeing any time travel.
N: I know this has been a project that’s been developing for a while, so how has it changed since you initially conceived of it?
Brian Michael Bendis: I can tell you how I’ve changed. [laughter] I have grown older and I have four more children than when I started. You know, it was just this–we were optioned when we first came out in 2000, and if you do the math quickly, that was 15 years ago. We were optioned by Sony, and they have developed it, and partnered with it literally since its inception. They just always believed in it.
Truthfully, looking at it, you realize that the first ten years, the audience that we were going to show this to didn’t know the rules of the genre. They had not seen enough–like the comic book audience had, that’s why the book took off. The audience got what we were doing with flipping it on its ears and showing super heroes from an angle they had not seen before, but they understood it.
The general audience, the mainstream audience, had not been trained yet in the rules of the genre, but look what happened to the genre. Aquaman, Spider Man, Batman, Superman, Fantastic Four, Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man–all the movies come out, and slowly but surely, this audience–and this whole generation–has been trained in the genre, much like the comic book audience had been, so now they are ready for someone to come along and tip the truck over and have some fun with it. That’s exciting.
Not that we were ahead of our time, but if we were coming out six years ago, we would have been a great cult audience of the people who really got it. It would have been like, “Oh no, you don’t understand, they’re making a–they’re talking about Galactus! You don’t even know.” But now it’s nice that the game audience, the PlayStation audiences, and the mass audience, who are hungry for stories about this stuff from a different angle, here we are.
N: So where do you guys feel like this fits in the modern sort of superhero TV and movie landscape?
BMB: At the very top. [laughter] There’s us, and there’s all the other ones.
Charlie Huston: I think for people who are either more interested in superheroes and cops, who are maybe within the superhero world, don’t have a tremendous appetite for the relentless spectacle of the features. For the–and I say this with all due respect–the cheesier aspects of some of the TV offerings. When I say that, I mean the types of stories they tell, it’s a little bit more traditional superhero-y kind of approach. I think that, that once your audience reaches a certain maturity, and I don’t just mean that in terms of years, I mean that in terms of understanding the genre–sophistication is a better word. What they want is the adult representation. Grown-up stories, and that doesn’t just mean kick-ass, fuck, blood-and-guts.
BMB: We have loads of that.
CH: Not all of it, but we have some of that. We have a lot of cops. They want to see a grown-up story told, and the real gold to be mined here, beyond the core concept of cops solving superhero crimes, which is a great core concept, and beyond Walker and Deena, who are two amazing characters, what if superheroes really, really, really were in our world? What would that be like, and what would we think of them, and how would we treat them, and how would it change the way we think about ourselves, and what kind of problems and complications would that create in our world?
That’s a really fun question to ask, and that’s what Brian is saying. That’s a question would barely have been possible to ask of the general TV audience 15 years ago. They’d have been like “What if super heroes were real? That’s a stupid question!”
BMB: But you know, Powers is an independent comic book. Marvel publishes it. It is made by me and Mike, alone in our rooms. Marvel publishes it, but they don’t do anything with it. It’s as indie as indie goes. And with that comes an indie spirit, where of course we can go into those places that other people aren’t going to go, because we don’t have to answer to anybody, right? And the audience likes that, that’s why they’ve hung with us for so many years.
The show is going to, I think, represent that to a lot of people who are eagerly looking for something similar. Like, “I’ve seen all that. Show me something else.” You know what I mean?
N: Yeah, I do.
BMB: I actually love good cop shows and good crime fiction, and that was the goal to make of it. It’s a cop show. They’re superheroes and they’re supposed to be, because there are superheroes in it–it is a cop show. The people who love cop shows but feel they’ve seen a lot of every condition of cop shows, but actually this is something else, here’s something else, and that’s cool.
CH: And a perfect world will have a nice overlap between hardcore genre fans who will have a lot of fun, who will sit down and watch a show and takes the things that are close to their heart and tilts them this way and that, and gives them the fun-house mirror version of it, which is always entertaining.
Hopefully, we’re also taking it seriously enough and taking an authentic enough approach to how we tell these stories and how we represent the characters that someone with no interest in super heroes whatsoever might sit down one night and say “OK, well, I’ll try this thing.” If we’re talking about it and go, “Oh, they’re actually–the tongue is not in the cheek. They’re not doing some cheesy wacky things–this is serious storytelling, that they’re working very, very hard on.” And they might be able to squint their way past the super hero bits that they’re not that interested in, just to hang with the characters and see how they grow and change. That would be a dream come true for me.
BMB: Yeah, for sure.
N: This is the first scripted series for PlayStation Network. Do you feel that that sort of digital platform first of all allows you to experiment more and have more creative freedom?
BMB: Yeah. Also that the people on PlayStation have sophisticated gaming experiences, and with the comic book audience and the gaming audience, the Venn diagram is wide, which I’m part of, so I know. You spend all of your free money on games and on comics, right?
BMB: They’re looking for the same thing. “Show me something I haven’t seen before. Make me feel something I haven’t felt before. Give me a visceral experience in the game world. Give me more.” Right? From their TV, “Give me more.” So I think it’s going to be a good experience for the PlayStation audience, and the good news is you don’t have to have a PlayStation to watch it! You can just go to PlayStation.com and it’s there for you purchase.
N: Will we see Wolfe and Walker through the ages? That was one of my favorite storylines…
BMB: It’s funny you should mention that…
BMB: Charlie says no. I say season five.
CH: I’ll give you this much. We do get into flashbacks and pieces and see them at previous points in their history, but we have a different back story from the comic book. We will not be going all the way back to the proto-human monkey sex. No monkey sex! You heard it here first–no monkey sex!