Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Empowered Volume 7 (May, 2012)

Over a year after my belated review of the previous volume, a new Empowered came out, and I still waited another half year to read and review it. Like The Walking Dead, I have a love/hate relationship with this book's expansive cast and often meandering, repetitive narrative. Reading one Empowered takes about as long as any three trades from anybody else, and it's sometimes hard to force oneself through another scene of drunken karaoke confessions/living room whines about sexual hang-ups/extended bondage sequences/Caged Demonwolf verbiage. As with The Walking Dead, I'm sick of key surviving characters, miss the dead, and am ready for the book to progress rather than circumnavigate. On the other hand, there has yet to be an Empowered volume lacking at least some amusement, notable character development, keen concepts, and delicious art. I can always justify the purchase.

Overall, the 2011 "season" was an improvement over 2010, not that I'm trying to damn it with faint praise. It still felt "off" though, in part because of its strong focus on Ninjette and the consequence of its scale being significant shrunk. I like Ninjette as a supporting character, and remain curious to see if her infatuation with Thugboy ever forces an irreversible shift in the series' dynamic. Real tension has been drawn from her harrowing upbringing and the constant threat of that past overtaking her present. Still, 'Jette isn't really strong enough to carry an arc as the central character, even with the assistance of intriguing figures like Oyuki-Chan. This volume certainly tries to develop her further, and seeks to resolve a fair amount of loose strings from prior editions, but ultraviolent bootylicious chop-socky only has so much appeal. It probably plays well with the manga fans, but what I love about Empowered is the ridiculously grand world building and mad Morrison concepts. This forces the customary logic leaps of why one should engage in life and death stakes with ancient blade weaponry and uncertain allies when your best friend can just call up a few second string Avengers to take on some rapey Foot Clan wannabes.

My other complaint about this volume is a pair of aggravating narrative devices. The first is non-linear storytelling, most heightened in a prologue sequences of single panel decontextualized teases of sequences from later in the book. They're too vague to be spoilers, and intentionally misleading, which you'll recognize as they come up throughout the book. As such, they're initially irritating and confusing, then come off as cheap. The rest of the volume then jumps around in time. The through story remains Ninjette's conflict with the Ayakami-Clan, but it's constantly sidetracked by a coda for the prior volume and the usual Empowered tangents. The book comes out only as a thick yearly edition, and remains broken up into chapters determined by the artist's whim rather than the page constraints of monthly publication. A typical volume's many gear shifts keeps things fresh, collecting any number of short subjects that often stealthily build to a grand finale. Here, the book starts at the finale, then jerks you around with mundane bullshit that stalls the progress of the ninja clash. The result is the diminishing of everything that isn't directly tied to the clan war. Warren's second trick is old, having Emp break the fourth wall the sell elevated stakes directly to the reader. She did the exact same thing the last time Ninjette was imperiled in a similar fashion, so it's hard for a reader not to recall the old saying "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me."

Having aired my grievances, I'll say this volume was generally fun, and I was interested in the new details of Ninjette's world. There's indications that Empowered may finally get some respect in the hero world, and she's only ever bound and gagged in flashback. There's foreshadowing of changes to come, and I suspect that Warren will drop some serious business in 2013, fingers crossed.

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