Monday, December 27, 2010

Empowered Volume 4 (2008)

I’d like to issue a personal apology to Adam Warren. You see, months back I wrote a highly critical review of the third volume of Empowered, but then rolled right into volume 4, which was a massive improvement. Unfortunately, I’ve had that negative reaction sitting around the internet for about a half a year, and sat on the positive opinion I have for this edition. The character of Empowered gets nominated as “Suprahuman Most Deserving of Wider Recognition” in this story, and the book also warrants more positive word, so I feel like a jerk for laying down on the job.

The book opens by reprinting the color story from MySpace Dark Horse Comics Presents, a fairly average introductory piece for new readers. Speaking of color though, for some reason I always thought Sistah Spooky was an Asian girl that tried to act black, and it wasn’t until I saw her on the back cover here that I saw how unambiguously African-American she’s supposed to be. Call me obtuse.

The new material picks up with Ninjette recovering from the events of the previous volume. The hospital for “capes” where she’s staying offers a lot of opportunity for Morrison mad ideas, which Warren has a gift for communicating with much greater clarity and humor. The three principles (including Thugboy) then bond back at home in a more organic (and sexah) fashion than the karaoke contest last time.

Unbeknownst to the reader, those fifty-four pages of seemingly random episodes, exposition, and recovery have been lulling them into believing that the new tale hasn’t begun, when in fact Warren has been craftily threading in clues to a central mystery that will dominate the volume. Fun new characters are introduced, Empowered is subjected to her usual emotional battery, and sorting out the read herrings from the essentials may challenge the reader. Most of the cast is given an opportunity for action and character exploration. Once the shit starts hitting the fan at 17th Annual Caped Justice Awards ceremony, pay-offs come fast and furious, and our heroines truly show their worth.

I loved the first volume of Empowered because it was a collection of short stories/comic strips designed to satisfying at the end of each treat’s single-digit page count. Volume two worked because it was many of the characters’ first chances to entertain in extended tales. Three faltered because of the contempt of familiarity and meandering before the final fight, which had been teased too much and ran too long. Also, the balance of humor, tension, action and characterization was way off, feeling forced or slight depending on the individual segments.

Volume four works because Adam Warren manages to keep all of its balls in the air the entire time, an amazing accomplishment. Each chapter is fun, usually quite funny, and often enhances the characters. At the same time, the episodes are downright insidious is their stealth building of an overarching story which ties together and completes the volume. For the first time since the beginning of Empowered, Warren has delivered an edition that works in parts and as a whole, magnifying the pleasures of his work. He seems reenergized here, and the enthusiasm and focus grabs the reader by the boo-boo. Any reservations I had about continuing to follow the series were dispelled, and it is once again among my top recommendations.

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