First things first: Adam, apology accepted.
Vol. 10 of “Empowered” didn’t just leave off with the series’ first-ever cliffhanger. No, it left off with a downright brutal one by the standards of any title. After a big, dramatic heart-to-heart between Emp and Thugboy about their status, it looked like we were going to get a big mega-happy ending for this volume. Until Thugboy unexpectedly threw Emp off the roof of the building they were on. While her super-suit protected our protagonist, she was greeted post-impact by a psychic projection of deceased hero Mindf--k who let her in on what was going on: Mindf--k’s brother has escaped from his cell and is now loose in the city.
To recap a bit: We’ve not seen Mindf--k’s brother in the series before now. We’ve only heard bits and pieces about how he edited his personality to become stronger and tried to do the same for his sister. Only he didn’t edit her mind, he got her to cut out her eyes and tongue so she’d have to rely on and get better at using her powers just to interact with the world. This is the guy who’s currently at large in Emp’s world now, and he calls himself Neurospear.
Fortunately his plan isn’t to kill the girl who was there when Mindf--k sacrificed herself when Willy Pete attacked the Superhomey’s space station. No, he wants to relive one of his favorite pastimes when he played with action figures as a kid. Neurospear, formerly known as Brain-bow, loved to put one figure against all the others in a “Trial by Fire.” That’s his plan for Empowered and he’s got every cape in the city ready to join in.
Much as I was looking forward to seeing vol. 11’s cliffhanger resolved, part of me was a little apprehensive about reading this volume. I figured that if Neurospear was able to control any cape he wanted, he wouldn’t just want to have them fight Emp. He’d also want to have them taunting her and putting the superheroine down at every single opportunity. We’d be given a non-stop parade of scenes like Thugboy and Ninjette saying they never loved Emp before they made out with each other. 200 pages of that did not sound like my idea of a good time.
Fortunately, we find out early on that Neurospear’s control doesn’t extend to an individual’s actual personality. He’s only able to control their motor functions. Which leads to a different, but more palatable kind of horror: Seeing people, ordinary and super, forced to commit acts of violence towards Emp against their will.
The plus side here is that this allows our heroine to take on a lot of characters that she normally wouldn’t have a reason to fight otherwise. You might recall the end of vol. 9 when she told the judgemental Super-council to go stuff it after they tried to lock her up and that she could kick all of their asses if they tried to stop her. Well, guess what happens in vol. 11, which is a veritable action extravaganza! Adam Warren’s artistic abilities, especially his knack for creating kinetic action scenes, has never been in doubt around here. Vol. 11 is just one more instance of the man topping himself in his signature series.
Action is only part of the experience here. Even though this volume is basically one giant chase scene, Warren manages to fit in a lot of interesting backstory and character details along the way. I mean, I wasn’t expecting this to be the volume where I finally “got” Captain Rivet, but there you go (and just in time, too). We even find out some interesting things about his connection to Emp’s origin, and maybe even the overarching story for Empowered as a whole. The title’s one real recurring villain also stops by and winds up providing some expectedly twisted insight into how his mind works.
Still, no one can top Neurospear for pure villainy on display here. He’s someone who viewed his sensitivity to the crazy stuff he was being asked to do by the Superhomeys as a weakness and decided to get rid of it himself. There’s a point to be made about toxic masculinity here, but you’ll likely only notice it if you bother to work. That said, Neurospear isn’t held out to be an absolute monster here. The scenes we see of him and his sister Hannah, pre-Mindf--k, don’t exactly suggest that they had the best relationship growing up, while Brain-bow may not be as gone as the villain wants to think. Nothing excuses him for what he did to his sister and what he does here, yet there’s enough to make you think and wonder if maybe there wasn’t a better way that this all could’ve been resolved.
The way that it’s all resolved, however, is an example of the best kind of “How’re they going to get out of this”-style superhero plotting. Which is to say that you might actually figure out what’s going to happen if you pay close enough attention. It all leads to an immensely satisfying conclusion that was -- without a doubt -- worth the two-year wait for this volume. While I recognize that timeframe is the usual window new volumes of “Empowered” are released within, I’m still hoping that Warren will maybe deliver them a little faster in the future. Particularly after this volume leaves things wide open for the title’s future as a whole.