When I first saw preview pages for Empowered, almost a whole year before its release, I made the mental note to pick up the OGN when it dropped. I had seen some of Adam Warren's comics before and being both a manga fan and a fan of superheroes, I was interested in the premise of the book: a self-conscious heroine with an unreliable super suit who ends up being tied and bound and generally not taken seriously. Sounded like a winner to me.
Volume 1 was a funny, sexy, enjoyable romp that I read several times through and through. Which was great because FUN is not exactly the biggest concern for a number of the top titles, suspense is. Building the suspense of the characters world and the struggle between good and evil. So Empowered struck like a breath of fresh air.
Now one of the tricks to a good superhero series is a supporting cast which sadly seems to get put on the back burner more and more. The supporting characters that joining Emp kept the good times rolling. Her boyfriend Thug Boy, best friend Ninjette, and the caged alien overlord that live on her coffee table and than there were those Super Homies. Those damned Super-Homies.
The first set of stories were mostly short but a few pieces of future plot-lines were laid. From the origin of Sistah Spooky, a glimpse of the villainous Willy Pete, and the minion background of Thug Boy. The second volume kept things going this time putting some more emphasis on Ninjette's history as well as her attraction to Thug Boy but it was the ending to that particular volume that stands out the most, which involved Empowered trying to help a criminal who aneurysm. All while providing stories of Empowered tied up in embarrassing ways, questioning why she does what she does, and having her support group tell her everything's fine and she's cool and those Super-Homies suck.
It was 2008 where things really started to explode. Of course volume 3 was a bit of the same with a little more background on Thug Boy, learning a little more about Empowered's suit and a big Ninja attack at the end. Volume 4 however takes so much of what had been laid out as foundation and started to expand. The superhuman hospital: the Purple Paladin, alien drugs, superhuman awards ceremony, and the introduction of Maid Man and Mindfuck. As well as big twist at the ending involving one of the capes. With one of the big plot strains through out being Ninjette post ninja attack.
What volume 4 does it moves Empowered from just being a fun and sometimes dramatic take on superhero comics which at times resembled a sitcom, and elevated it to something a cut above the rest. Taking elements and ideas that have been used before and creating something wholly unique. The idea of Mayfly, an alien drug, that will kill you fast but perhaps give you super genius skills is a crazy notion. Just as is the notion that Empowered, despite her affiliation with the Super-Homies is only starting to learn about certain secrets in the superhuman community. Secrets they keep away from the public. Plus the twist regarding Mindfuck is genius and I never saw it coming.
Sadly, Warren slowed down production to a volume a year so the wait was painful for volume 5. Volume 5 was the sort of punch to the gut of current crop superhero comics. It gets it all right. Holding onto the fun escapism but further developing what makes it stand apart. I think that there is a notion that escapism can not turn out truly dramatic material but its escapism and fun that allows us to see characters in their best light. to see them succeed and try so that way when the bad happens we feel more emotionally connected. Versus all bad all the time with very little give.
The fifth volume picks up after the events in volume 4 which further distances Empowered from certain members of the Super-Homies, learn much more about Mindfuck who becomes a good friend of Emp's, and we get ready to truly meet a figure from Thug Boys past: Willy Pete. A character whose popped up a little here and there but never as an enemy of the Super-Homies.
The last chapter, Say That I Deserve This, is for me personally the kind of comics that is being attempted but not quite achieved in superhero comics. A story that's tragic and sad without feeling like a failed effort at being tragic and sad. It hits all the right notes because for a period now I've watched Empowered grow as a character. Seen how she deals with people. See the world that is around her. So the first confrontation with Willy Pete and how it plays out gave me goosebumps and choked me up. The way it effected not just Empowered herself but Sistah Spooky, a character you hate first but slowly start to tolerate. I really want to spoil it but I want you to read it. Its a fucking masterpiece. That two page spread and the pages both before and after it... I'm sorry, call me when a mainstream superhero comic and pull of a death scene so perfectly(and no, Spooky does not die).
So, last month volume 6 came out. Damn... Warren puts much of the funny aside to get tot he aftermath and also talking about something so boring as superhero deaths. In this case, superhero deaths-not boring. The way he creates consequences about a heroes gifts is something that MIGHT have been done before but not in any sort of elaborate way. At least not in any of the Marvel or DC books I've seen. It also gave us a real role for a villain referenced only once before in Volume 1: Deathmonger. Damn, what an incredible visual. Not just him but... Yeah... buy the book.
One of the things that I am more interested in as a reader of comics is if I can reread the book. There are a number of "great" and "award winning" stories I don't believe I'd ever read twice. You see all the great characterizations, complex plotting, and use of metaphors, symbolism and motiffs don't necessarily mean you'll make something beyond a one time read. For me, Empowered is one of those books I can reread almost anytime. or in the very least skim through and pick through my favorite bits and lines and scenes.
Empowered is also a book that I like to push on people. My brother rarely reads American comic books but the other day when he found out volume 6 came out he was mad I didn't let him know. My friend Lauren emailed me after I sent her the first two volumes for Christmas raving about it. I push the book on people because its fun and looks gorgeous.
That's it. I say check it out. It's my favorite book right now and it saddens me that it'll be a whole year before the next volume. Unless Warren puts out another one shot in between like he did last year.
(PS-Page 4 of Google image search for Empowered Comic leads you to this blog. Sweet.)