- Posted by Johanna on March 29, 2007 at 7:00 am
- Category: Superhero Reviews
- CREDITS: by Adam Warren
- PUBLISHER: Dark Horse Books; $14.95 US
Review by Rob Vollmar
It sucks to be a female superhero these days. Last week (the same week in fact that I picked up Empowered), I casually thumbed through two other new comic books featuring Supergirl, Supergirl #15 and Brave and the Bold #2. In the former, Supergirl discovers, the hard way, that her new boyfriend is a mouth-breathing woman-beater who also, as it turns out, is probably a psychotic stalker. Oh sure, she beat him thoroughly for his transgression, giving him a well-deserved superknee to his power-groin, but only after 16 pages of being dragged around by her hair while being instructed on the finer points of subservience. In the other, she travels through space with a Green Lantern (who can’t focus on the mission in front of him because he has to really concentrate in order not to solicit her for some good old statutory rape) only to fight gladiator-style against space-heavies but, you know, dressed like a really sexy six year old. With a lollipop.
I’m not sure if this was before or after the thing with the boyfriend but it hardly matters.
This briefest of glimpses into the murky depths of contemporary superhero continuity is not a scathing indictment of the institutionalized misogyny that pervades modern capes-and-boots comics. Adam Warren’s Empowered, on the other hand, is. It is also probably only the second great work of genius produced by a true synthesis of the comics and manga forms, the first being the first five hundred pages or so of Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest.
Empowered is composed of a continuing series of short stories that grow longer as the volume progresses, about a superheroine with less than ideal powers that diminish as her ultra-thin, body-tight costume is regularly shredded, ripped, or exploded off of her body during super-battles. This scenario, repeated in nearly every segment, not unlike Krazy Kat getting hit in the head with a brick thrown by Ignatz Mouse, usually winds up with Empowered nearly naked, bound, and ball-gagged, as she must endure, once again, the gloating of her villainous foe only to be rescued by her otherwise loathsome teammates, The SuperHomeyz.
If that synopsis seems a little repulsive, Warren treats these themes, only mildly caricatured from a holy host of superhero comics, as found art objects that merely inhabit the story rather than defining it. While his exploration and exploitation of them provides much of the ironic humor that drives Empowered, it is his warm characterization of the richly believable cast that drives the deepest nail into the coffin of superheroic cynicism. Instead of making the sum of the title character’s life an expression of this cycle of humiliation, Warren provides her with friends that offer her meaningful solace from the inhospitable superhero game. It is in this palpable sense of community that Warren draws heavily on manga themes, showing his typical sensitivity to storytelling differences between the two forms rather than aping surface details, which are drawn almost whole-cloth from the superhero genre.
For all this meta-textual hoo-rah supposedly in play, Empowered is neither labored nor shrill. In fact, it’s one of the most laugh-out-loud-funny works I’ve read in years. Warren’s writing, even when blended in with the sensibility of other artists handling the illustration, as with recent projects from Marvel like Livewires or Iron Man: Hypervelocity, is stylish and recognizable. Empowered is a playful but incisive reminder that, when given the forum to write and draw his own work, Adam Warren may have many compatriots in the Ameri-manga experiment, but not many peers. Breathtaking and utterly singular.