Empowered Volume 1

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.

Empowered Volume 1 cover
Empowered Volume 1
Buy this book

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.


23 Responses to “Empowered Volume 1”

  1. Ed Sizemore Says:

    To be honest, I don’t think of Supergirl as a teenager because of the way she is currently drawn. She looks more like someone in her early twenties. I guess I think of her as more of a college senior. DC really needs to figure out how to portray this character properly.

    What a great review of Empowered. Based on the Preview solicitations I’ve seen I really thought it was another T&A book. After reading your review I want to read it.

  2. Paul Sizer Says:

    I agree with your assesment of EMPOWERED. This is a deceptive book, because on the surface it DOES look like a T&A/bondage fantasy/fan service book, but after reading it, I found it to be very on target with making fun of those tropes and skewering them with wit and finesse! Warren is a total guilty pleasure, as I love his Ameri-manga hybrid art, but damn if his writing skills aren’t spot on as well. The GEN 13 stuff he wrote a few years back was the series’ highlights, and EMPOWERED is actually laugh out loud funny and timely!

    As you said, the best part is that it gives an equally hard time to all the cliches, but also gives all the cliche characters the opportunity to redeem themselves and show some pretty well developed interaction that makes their humor more enjoyable. And dare I say it, he manages to make these characters funny and sexy, showing their sex lives as a integral part of the interaction and humor, rather than just spotlighting it or shying away from it. It’s in your face, but no more so than the other aspects, and as I said, when the cliches are trotted out, guys and girls get equal time, which is the strength of Warren’s concept. We get equal time cheesecake, but we also get eqaul time genuine affection between the lead heroine and her thug boyfriend.

    And hands down, my biggest laughs came from the DemonLord whose essence is trapped in a device that has to be stored in the heroine’s apartment. It’s like having the best, most over the top Lee/Kirby monologues coming from a room mate who lives on your coffee table! Gut busting!

  3. david brothers Says:

    I’ve been wanting to pick this up as I’m a huge Adam Warren fan, but Amazon still had it listed for preorder last night.

    Soon.

    (I do wish that DC would trade the rest of his Gen13 run. I loved the next to last issue, the one from Caitlin’s perspective.)

  4. Andrew Burton Says:

    Lovely review!

  5. Darren Witt Says:

    Ah, Thank You.

    You read my mind. I had been seeing the odd review about this book, but like to triangulate opinion a bit more – and a good review from a known and trusted source (even one that I don’t always agree with – please don’t take that as a slight: I don’t always agree with my beloved wife either) has cinched (clinched?) the deal. On my next Amazon order….

    Take care,

    D. Witt

  6. Johanna Says:

    Just in case there’s some confusion: now that I have a contributing writer, please check the author label on the post. Rob did an excellent job writing this; I haven’t read the book myself.

  7. Ed Sizemore Says:

    I know to check the author line now after my first faux pas.

  8. Scott Says:

    I’ll have to look for Empowered at my LCS.

    … and I’m glad (?) to see that I wasn’t the only one mildly creeped-out by B&B #2.

  9. Darren Witt Says:

    Thanks and sorry. I will have to keep an eye on the attribution – any thoughts on making it a wee bit bigger… come to think of it, no. Cancel that suggestion. Probably would just mess up the nice formatting of posts more than it would benefit inattentive cads like me.

    But now the quandry – I will have to somehow guage the review (which usually i can do against the past reviews i have read). I wonder what RobV thinks of Amy Unbounded, Walking Dead, and the Authority?

    Thanks for the setting-of-straight!

    Darren

  10. Johanna Says:

    I have been thinking about what to do about accurate authorship, just because this has been a single-person site for so long, and it’s not fair to readers to expect them to notice a small line like that when it goes against their habit.

    You can see some of Rob’s previous reviews at Comic Book Galaxy, but I think they’re mostly manga there too.

  11. Rob Staeger Says:

    When Savage Critic changed from single-author to their current group of three, they used different color text to differentiate. Maybe different color box borders could do the same job for you?

  12. Rob Vollmar Says:

    Darren,

    You asked, “I wonder what RobV thinks of Amy Unbounded, Walking Dead, and the Authority?”

    I have never reviewed any of those three titles. It’s been a long time since I read AMY UNBOUNDED but I remember enjoying it. I haven’t read enough issues of WALKING DEAD to offer any sort of meaningful critical assessment of it. I very much enjoyed Ellis’ run on the AUTHORITY and everything that followed incrementally less as the story moved away from the source material.

    Thanks, R.

  13. James Schee Says:

    Dang, I did what the others did in totally missing the author. I almost preordered the book even! (nothing against Rob, I’m just not familiar enough with his tastes as I am with yours to know how they compare with mine)

    This is going to take some getting used to as while the site’s title may say CWR, it always equaled “Johanna’s thoughts and reviews.” Still I guess change is the course of life.

  14. Darren Witt Says:

    Hi again Johanna, Rob and All,

    Given that I am not the only one to have this “problem” (if more posts from a favourite website is a problem) of getting used to a new reviewer, can I maybe be full of myself enough to make a suggestion?

    How about something in a bio/writeup of contributors of favourite works? More than 4 or 5 or so should give us all some standard to measure our own interests against. (I am thinking – with my faulty mind – about Library Thing, I think? The site you enter books onto and then can compare with others’ lists to see where interests intersect? “Wow, Bob likes Pynchon AND Captain Underpants, maybe I should try this Punchon guy?” Or did I get the name and concept totally wrong?)

    This is certainly the first thing I do when I am considering a purchase based on a review. The “Comics Classics” page certainly provides some insight (though only Johanna’s, I presume), but I don’t always want a classic, sometimes good mindless fun is where it’s at. (A further digression – the Classics page has always been a bit of a confusion to me – why is Why I Hate Saturn an Amazon link/ad, but not mentioned in the “content” section of that same page?) I had mentioned a while back to Johanna that I missed the label “recommended series/book” label in the “Graphic Novel Reviews” section – I still miss this feature and think it would address at least some of my interests/concerns. And that’s what we are all concerned about, right? MY concerns? I want my FREE internet content tailored EXACTLY to my personal desires. The rest of you will learn to like it. And I will come up with a few more hours in the day for Johanna and Rob – would 29 be enough?

    I am rambling due to lack of sleep and incoherend neurons. Sorry. A Bio. With a list of 10/20/whatever favourite GNs or series. I would LOVE that. And my birthday is less than a month away and my wife about to burst with child number two so she will (understandably) be concerned about things other than my birthday for the forseeable future. But no pressure.

    End on a high: I love the site, and will continue to lurk (and occasionally post my graffiti like this) for a long time to come with or without changes. Thank you for your work and efforts.

    Good Night.

    Darren

  15. Darren Witt Says:

    Wow. Long post.
    Darren

  16. Johanna Says:

    Darren, I love suggestions. I’ll talk to Rob about getting more information on his recommended books. And the Recommended GN idea is still on my to-do list.

    (As for Comic Classics, the difference between the two types of links is simple, but not necessarily obvious: the list at the top of the page is books I’ve reviewed myself. The Amazon link section is made up of books I consider classics that I haven’t yet reviewed, so I’m directing readers to another source of information.)

    So far, regarding the author ID question, the colored text would be easiest for me to do, but I’m not sure I’d find the results aesthetically pleasing. (A quibble at best.) Something to think more about.

  17. Ed Sizemore Says:

    I like the idea of colored text also. I think if you use a dark blue or a burgundy then the aesthetics shouldn’t be effect too much. Now a lime green or neon orange might not fit as well with your current design.

  18. Rob Spencer Says:

    I don’t think attribution needs to be too complicated, in terms of color-coding or whatever.
    A byline at the top of the review body ‘Review by Johanna’, or in the title line ‘Rob Reviews Empowered’ should clear up any confusion.
    Especially for folks who missed the announcement of a new writer, or forgot.

  19. Johanna Says:

    Rob, that seems simple enough. I’ve added more prominent bylines to Rob’s posts. We’ll see if that helps.

  20. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Apr. 2, 2007: My agenda Says:

    [...] picked up a copy of the book myself, I can state that Rob Vollmar’s review of Adam Warren’s superhero satire, Empowered, is pretty much spot-on. (Above: [...]

  21. T Campbell Says:

    Actually, BRAVE AND THE BOLD #2 was the first new-Supergirl story I enjoyed without reservation. GL’s not seriously worried about grabbing and kissing her, he’s just worried about blushing or coughing or otherwise rewarding her inappropriate, ParisHiltony advances. Then he actually CALLS HER ON HER B.S., and she starts putting that tee-hee-I’m-an-innocent-flower act to more constructive use. You’ve got me on the costume, but I’ve seen worse, and would a tasteful costume really be in character at this point?

    Without altering the deep character flaws that we’ve seen tolerated or even celebrated in other stories, Waid and Perez spell out that they ARE flaws, and what’s more, that they’re going to leave her thoroughly unhappy unless she does something about them. And they have her take one step toward doing just that. If every installment of SUPERGIRL were like this, you couldn’t drag me away.

    But EMPOWERED sounds keen. I’ll check it out next chance I get.

  22. Rob Vollmar Says:

    T.,

    It sounds like you are more deeply invested into the intricacies of this new and improved Supergirl than I’m ever going to be. For my part, I’ve been reading truckloads of SHOWCASE reprints featuring the more classic variety and so the delta between Superman’s helpful cousin and this, as you say, Paris Hilton inflected Supergirl is not only noticeable but, to my sensibilities, more than a little gross.

    Hope you enjoy EMPOWERED!

  23. Mangaka America » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] of culture, race, and heritage, and the title of this book may put some off. Longtime manga stylist Adam Warren provides a foreword that tackles the subject head-on, setting the right tone for the material that [...]




Categories:

Pages:



Meta:

Most Recent Posts: