Monday, June 21, 2010

Empowered Volume 3 (March, 2008)

Remember that feeling of euphoria at discovering the first season/album/etc. of something toe-curlingly great? How about the second round, when you notice that the stuff you were introduced to is now just being tweaked into variations? It’s still good—probably much better than whatever else is around, but that thrill of the new is seeping out. Next comes volume three, by which time the vitality is seriously compromised. Either the wheels start spinning, or after a sophomore slump, they progress in an undesirable direction. What was once novel turns contemptuously familiar and whether it’s the fall from lofty heights or actual mediocrity, that thing you loved isn’t all that great anymore.

So it went with Empowered Volume Three, which I probably should have reviewed when I read it last year. Somewhat put out by the seriousness and longer form stories of the second volume, I thumbed through this one when I first got it in early 2008, maybe read a story or two, but couldn’t commit once the sprawling began. You see, I loved the first volume because it was fun, genuinely funny, and compelled you to keep reading one very short story after another. Even there, drama and excess length crept in toward the end, as writer/artist Adam Warren had burned through previously crafted material and opened up the narrative. It’s so much harder to write tight, entertaining bits than to delve into the mythology, or whatever they’re calling Stan Lee’s old con of stretching out stories to fill pages these days.

The longest thread of the book revolves around Ninjette’s former clan finally catching up with her (sorta.) Warren eventually makes a point of mentioning all the nihilistic books he’s written where scads of major characters got iced in nasty business like that found here. My issue is that it mostly served to point out how similar a book like Empowered, which at one time would have been quite daring, is to current bloodthirsty DC Comics fare. Either you’re going to do the deed, which means snuffing a likable character that hasn’t reached their full potential, or you won’t, wasting as much time as an over-hyped crossover book. Empowered is best in its more intimate moments dealing with human frailties, not wasting page after page on silent action.

Much of this edition feels like noodling. There's too many stories about mundane events, puttering subplots, and revisited subjects. I also get the feeling some of these stories were commissioned, as there's a ridiculous amount of bondage fetish bullshit this round. The Superhomeys are generally background players this time. The Caged Demonwolf has officially jumped the shark here, going from a draw to an irritant. Warren also succumbs to the dreaded stylistic experimentation, doing a terrible riff on the Frank Miller Sin City chiaroscuro style entirely too many people shat out in the early '90s. Damn near three-quarters of the book reads like total filler. The best story revolves around an origin sequence for Thugboy, continuing a strong if pitch black strand from the previous edition. Otherwise, this edition was a misstep and a disappointment.

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