Talking the death of Retro Girl with the cast and creators of Powers

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Apr 18, 2016, 7:59 AM EDT

Fans got to feel the power firsthand recently at Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, where the cast and creators of Powers took the main stage to present a sneak peek at the upcoming second season of the Playstation Network show, premiering on May 31. The super-powered crime drama’s sophomore season will be based directly on the first arc of the fan-favorite comic-book series, “Who Killed Retro Girl?”

Not knowing if any of them were the culprit, I sat down for a roundtable interview with actresses Susan Heyward (Deena Pilgrim), Olesya Rulin (Calista) and Logan Browning (Zora) to find out more murderous details. Also present were Powers co-creators Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming, showrunner Rémi Aubuchon and executive producer David Engel, who discussed improvements made to the series in the new season, the influence of the media on the investigation into Retro Girl’s death and whether Jessica Jones would beat Christian Walker in a fight.

Read on for an in-depth talk about the second season of Powers, as well a look at the mesmerizing new title sequence, and click here to watch a fresh clip from the new season.  Be sure to check out the rest of Blastr’s Emerald City Comic Con coverage, including interviews with Howard Chaykin and Gerard Way on their new projects announced over the wild weekend in Seattle.


Tonally, how does Season 2 compare to Season 1?

Rulin: For us, Season 1 was more about the grand picture of it all and kind of the Powers universe as a whole. And Season 2 is more like, everyone’s got their own little world. It’s more internal. Internal stories between Walker and Deena and me and Logan and everyone’s character is figuring something out from the inside and then it’s projecting outside. Versus Season 1, which I think was more about the world, now it’s more about us. Very Game of Thrones-y in that sense. It’s a bunch of little worlds and then they come together and you’re like “whoa.” It’s a little more detailed. I think you get to escape as an audience a bit more.

Browning: It’s funny, being an actor on a show, I can enjoy being a part of it, but then when it comes time to watch it, I watch it as a fan. So, from a fan perspective, I feel like the show picked up around Episode 6 or 7, is when it found its pace and really set its tone. So, in Season 2 that’s elevated in a very...it just looks better. It looks really, really good, I was very impressed with the special effects. They look real, it doesn’t take you out of the story, you completely buy into everything you’re seeing. Which is way more fun to watch as a viewer.

Heyward: Logan had a good word, “breathless.” That’s a great one. The confusion that everyone’s sewed into with the death of Retro Girl carries us through the entire season, I’d say.

Aubuchon: I think that we consciously tried to make a change-up this season to be a little truer to the DNA that’s in the comic book. One of the things I loved about Oeming’s work is that it’s very bold, it’s very in your face. Brian Bendis’ writing is very balls-out, very here, take it or leave it. And we tried to integrate that DNA with some of the sensibilities that we liked in the first season, where the characters were a little more introspective. As would happen in a television show, you need to kind of open them up a little bit more. You have to let the actors embody and take it. So we really tried to get a feel for the show that’s moving forward quickly and fast. So, breathless is actually the right word for that. Even if we only accomplish 60% of “breathless,” I’ll be okay with that.

Heyward: What’s exciting is that the introspective moments have a heavier impact. Even when people finally can stop for two seconds and take a breath and take stock of where they’ve come, it gets harder.


What lessons do you think the show has learned from Season 1?

Aubuchon: Well, you know, it’s always hard to assess a show when you’re starting out. You have an idea, you try to go for it. Frankly, not everything was successful in the first season. We tried to go for certain ideas, but what I do think was successful is the character development. And even though some of the story stuff, I think, wobbled a little, I’m just being honest. And I think that everyone involved in Season 1, including myself, would agree with that. So, we took a lot of stock about that and said OK, let’s take that and figure out how we can improve upon it and recapture some of the stuff we liked in the comic book that we didn’t quite figure out how to do in the first season. And there are exceptions to that, big exceptions. But I feel like what we’ve learned is that we just need to tweak it and tune it up so that we can really go forward in a faster, stronger way.

I don’t think we were keeping up with our audience. At our core is a gaming audience, but also an audience that is exposed to genre and understands the genre stuff. And what I’ve learned over the course of doing five genre shows is that everybody is always ahead of you. It used to amaze me when I was doing Falling Skies and, at panels, people would come up to you with questions and I’d realize that they knew the show better than I know it. It’s crazy! And we really want to take in Season 2 that energy and sense of moving as fast as you can. We weren’t sure the audience would catch on to that in the first season, but the second season, we felt more confident that we could. Right from the first episode, we’re throwing things out really big and really fast. And short sometimes. They’re bursts. But they all pay off by the end of the season.

Heyward: One thing I love is that, last season we were building, trying to establish our world. And I felt like, sometimes, we didn’t trust ourselves to laugh or find the humor in it or comment on what we were doing. And I think we have a little more confidence — a lot more confidence, actually — and this season we have the ability to laugh at ourselves a little bit. It’s that special brand of humor that Brian wrote and really brings to things is a lot more present, and that was a lot of fun to play with too.

What aspects of the Powers world are you looking forward to exploring that you didn’t get to touch on in the first season?

Bendis: Well...both of the episodes I wrote are…uh… are very naughty. Because how powers affect the sexual spectrum is part of the reason we do the book. And Mike tends to like to draw nude scenes, whether I like them or not, so it affected the book having more stuff for adults in it. So, my second episode partly takes in a powers-themed sex club. And poor Rémi [Aubuchon] there had to sit in the editing room and look at 65 nude people cavorting for hours and hours—

Aubuchon: Oeming and Bendis being two of them.

Oeming: Ha ha, yeah. Super Taint!

Bendis: So, yeah. There’s a lot more adult activity in places we missed out on the first season. I think the humor is much more in line with what the book’s humor is. I think, visually, it’s much more in line with what the book is. Mike is a very strong stylist, his artwork is so specific, so to bring a real world aesthetic to that is tough. Thanks to Rémi, our showrunner, the choices of our cinematographer, our costume designer, are all coming together to make a unique visual statement in television without it being distracting from the storytelling. All this is what we were very excited about pursuing, and as far as I’m concerned, mission accomplished. We’ll see what other people think.

Browning: I’m excited to see everyone’s characterization. A lot of times, when you watch procedural shows, everyone is kind of the same. They’re different versions of the same kind of person. They’re all doing the same thing. But all of these people are so unique. Like, how did you create all these different minds? And everyone looks different. It makes the world colorful.

Aubuchon: One of the things I felt about the first season — and it sort of became unwitting — is that the world became very claustrophobic and sort of centered in on four main characters and stayed there and never really moved out. Also, we had the Shaft, which in itself was a claustrophobic environment. But one of the things that both Brian and I said that we’d want to do for sure is expand the world. There’s years of Powers comics, there’s lots of stuff there, and we wanted to really open It up and make everybody feel like, no, this is a big world, this isn’t just a tiny world, this is a huge world. It was a huge challenge.

Heyward: I agree. It was fun and it was exciting but it was very challenging to find your place as the world expanded. The thing I was really excited about was actually the addition of the media. I loved how you can feel the size of the world when you’re there for the moment the thing happens, and then right up against it, you’re there for how it’s perceived in the larger world. That kind of contrast, that kind of dynamic that pulls back and forth between what happened and the perception, is always exciting. And we’re living through that in our everyday lives, too.


The way the news media intertwines itself with the investigation is an integral part of the way the original comic book story was told. Is that an important part of telling the story in live action as well?

Aubuchon: It is, actually. We tried to do that in the first season, but with the storyline of the first season, it quite frankly got in the way, so we pulled back on it. This season, I believe we’ve figured out how to integrate that. Not only is it a player in what happens in the second season, but it’s vital, and it’s not so good all of the time.

Did you feel a need to update that at all in the live action version, given advances in technology?

Bendis: Well, not much has changed. In fact, some of the things we were doing that would be considered parody have become reality.

Oeming: Yeah, jeez.

Bendis: So, that hasn’t changed so much. But I’m a little obsessed with media, and media making itself the story. I’m just obsessed with it, and how they actually affect every story they touch, but then what if they’re not touching it? It’s just fascinating to me. And also, it’s a show about how the world would really see superheroes, and it would be constant! They would never shut up about it! “E! Entertainment” would be “P! Entertainment,” it would be big business, it would be all-consuming, all the time. And as we [gestures at Oeming] were talking about, you wake up in the morning and the headline is Nicolas Cage and Vince Neil are fighting outside the casino, and you told me, “well, Powers just wrote itself for another year!”

Oeming: I think the only difference is that the delivery is faster. Back then, it was all Internet-based, all our stories and press, we were talking about how the Internet and stuff was covering all the stories, but now it’s just faster. It’s just that times ten.

How does the slower build to Retro Girl's death change the relationship that Pilgrim and Walker both have to the investigation?

Bendis: The plus is that we got to see them together. You got to see them kind of rekindle in the first season. If you’re coming in to watch the second season cold, it will be just like reading the comic. All you know is the biggest superhero in the world has died, all hell is breaking loose, and everyone is a suspect. And that’s how we did the book. So, we were very excited about this second season, and we looked at it like, if you’ve never seen the first season, you still get it. If you saw the first season, you’ll go, “Oh! It’s almost like a prequel to the series itself.”

Heyward: There’s more baggage between them now. When they meet, there’s suspicion, especially from Deena’s side, about who Walker is, what his intentions are. But in our version, our remix, they’ve lived through so much that it kind of resets their relationship. You know that thing where you’ve got a beef with somebody and something major happens and it changes everything. So, for us, Retro Girl’s death is a bridge from where they were to a new relationship.

Aubuchon: I think that one of these things that gave us the opportunity of having a season to get to know these characters, much like what Susan said, is that we can more explore the impact of her death on all the characters that we might not have been able to do if we had just started out with that and the audience is trying to catch up to figuring out who all these people are. Now that we have that time, and we’ve ended the season with the death of Retro Girl, now we can see what that actually does to everybody. And it changes everybody a lot. I mean, the death of Retro Girl resonates throughout the season.


Re-reading the first arc, the coroner character was definitely my favorite in the story. Did you come up with any creative new ways for him to dissect Retro Girl?

Bendis: This is very exciting. We love the actor who plays our coroner and, in the book, we actually came up with a new coroner who loves being a coroner of powers. Loves it like crazy. And she’s amazing. And Azie Tesfai, who was on Jane the Virgin, came in and killed it. And with every crazy thing that happens, she’s just like, “Yes!” And we brought him back so the two of them could just butt heads. And actually, in my episode, the ninth episode, they’re together, sort of fighting over bodies and she’s like, “This has never happened before!” and he’s like, “You might be nuts.” So you’re going to get more of that, plus.

How does seeing Powers in live action, a world you and Mike created and own, compare to seeing other properties you’ve worked on, like Daredevil or Jessica Jones?

Bendis: Well, Daredevil I didn’t create, obviously. I’m very proud of the stuff they’ve used of mine and Alex [Maleev]’s in Daredevil. It’s very flattering, because the show’s very good and it’s filled with all these cool things, and when some of our stuff shows up I go, “That’s nice! I’m part of the good pile of crap!”

Oeming: And it seems everybody on Daredevil is on the same page. And that’s one of the big differences. When you’re making television or film of comics, a lot of people, they’re not really on the same page, and then it reflects. Daredevil is like that, Jessica Jones is like that, Powers is like that, we’re very lucky to be that involved.

Bendis: And the other difference is that I’m actively working as a producer on Powers, so I’m involved day-to-day. Whereas with Jessica, I am involved, but more in a consulting, “I’m there when you need me” kind of thing. I will say, that having that material do that well in its new life is a huge relief. Because the bad version of Jessica Jones would not just have been a bad TV show, it would have been a nightmare to me. Like, a true nightmare. A big part of who I am is Jessica, and even two weeks ago at WonderCon, sitting with the showrunner and sitting and talking about Season 2, and I’m like “Season 2?!” It’s crazy! It’s a very good feeling. It’s legitimately wonderful that this is all happening while we’re all alive and coherent. Jack Kirby never got to see his s*** done. And I’m not comparing myself to him, but the idea that you created something and then you didn’t have to wait a long time. I mean it seems like a long time, but once it’s done, it doesn’t seem like the wait was all that bad at all.

David Engel: Can you ask him who would win in a fight, Jessica Jones versus Christian Walker?

Bendis: Well, Jessica still has her powers, so...but oddly, Deena would beat them both up.

Actually, I was going to ask, which Marvel character would be most at home in the Powers universe, or vice versa?

Oeming: I could see Luke Cage in Powers. But not too many Powers in Marvel.

Bendis: Yeah, and Deena would be a good foil for Spider-Man. Deena as the cop chasing down Spider-Man!

Engel: What about Super Shock in the Marvel world?

Bendis: Too big. Too powerful. That’s Thor-level, man!