Monday, February 9, 2009

Empowered Volume 1 (March, 2007)

I was first introduced to the heroine of Empowered through an online preview, which led me to this direct-to-trade series, still an automatic purchase four volumes later. The first makes an excellent and speedy impression, as it collects short stories creator Adam Warren circulated amongst friends via email for years before publishing. Based on commissions for bondage-themed super-heroine pin-ups, Empowered began her life as a generic victimized character, but developed a personality over time that led to a continuum all her own. She is truly unique in that, unlike the stereotypical tough women of comicdom, Empowered is ruled by deep-seated insecurities that constantly hamper her life in tights. Rather than grand posturing, Empowered reflects a kind of woman we all know, and often love, making her far more believable than most any other super-person who comes to mind.

I remember the delight I felt on first reading this volume, as it was that rare comic that is powerfully and broadly effecting. I grinned almost constantly, except when matters turned toward the briefly horrific, or exposed the heart-breakingly relatable struggles of our heroine. Empowered is quite capable and determined, but she's been cursed with an extremely unreliable power source that leaves her constantly vulnerable and routinely humiliated by foes and "friends" alike. Her teammates do not respect her, as they take glee in abusing and objectifying her. Hoods routinely capture, bind, and gag her-- some posting pictures on the internet for added degradation. Emp works horrible, dead-end jobs. She's lonely, she has body issues, and it's all that she can do to summon up the courage to soldier on.

In her corner are Thugboy, an ex-minion who falls hard for this flaxen fury who can't see her own worth. An encounter with the mercenary Ninjette leads to heavy drinking and fast friendship. When Emp gets saddled with playing house warden to a villain that represents one of her greatest accomplishments, this caged Demonwolf becomes her funniest supporting character, speaking in vaunted tones about the most mundane aspects of daily living.

Empowered Volume 1 is sweet, sassy, sexy, and even scary when called for. In short, its everything you could want out of a super-hero comic. Empowered is probably the most realistic and entertaining heroine in modern comics, and it seems to me her crossover appeal is enormous. Though drawn in a so-called "manga" style, there's nothing in Adam Warren's sensual gray-toned pencil art that should turn off traditionalist readers, and it also succeeds in crossing the aisle to reach the otaku. I can't recommend it enough.

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