Comic Picks By The Glick

Empowered vol. 8

December 29, 2013

For a while, I was afraid that we’d have to wait until sometime in 2014 for another volume of this series.  Then the solicitations informed me that vol. 8 would be arriving just in time for the holidays.  “Empowered” has been a consistently entertaining series, in spite of its excesses, and that continues here as well.  Long-time readers will also be glad to know that we finally get some closure on the ongoing Sistah Spooky/Mindf--- storyline that also represents a turning point in the latter character’s mindset as well.  Of course, this all would’ve been more enjoyable if writer/artist/creator Adam Warren hadn’t felt the need to hedge his bets so much here.

So is there an actual heaven or hell in the “Empowered” universe?  That’s what the first half of this volume is dedicated to exploring in a series of vignettes all collected under the title banner of “Oh, Hell Yeah.”  Though there are only two of these such chapter breaks here, instead of the usual dozen or so, this first half is the title’s usual brand of short-form storytelling only without the visual stops.  We get lots of characters’ opinions on this issue, with some being more figurative -- Thugboy’s idea of “heaven” is banging the hell out of Empowered -- it’s the very literal connection that Sistah Spooky has to her own powers that fuels the plot here.

Way back in vol. 1 it was established that Spooky got her powers by selling her soul to an infernal service provider in exchange for blazing hotness, only for a mix-up on the demon’s part to give her enough powers to become a legitimate super-hero.  Well, the ISP hasn’t forgotten this issue and finally found a way to let Spooky know, back in vol. 6, that her former lover Mindf--- was currently burning in hell.  This was going to continue until she renegotiated the terms of her contract.  However, Spooky isn’t the kind to take things lying down and decides to take the fight to the ISP herself, with some help from Emp as well.

In case the references to previous volumes weren’t an indication, this is definitely not a good jumping on point for new readers.  We’re dealing with the culmination of several volumes worth of plot points both big and small, and I’d say that veterans would need to refresh their memory about them except for the fact that Warren does a pretty good job of recapping everything here.  It can get a little wearying at times, but as someone who hasn’t gone back and re-read things recently I appreciated it.

As for the actual content of this volume.  The first half is as solid as you’d expect with Warren continuing to get some good comedy and drama from this superhero world he created.  Superheroes being created via art class, the Caged Demonwolf’s omniscience and paraphrasing of Nirvana lyrics, Ninjette’s jealousy at “Drunk Me,” and “lavakkake” are just some of the comedic highlights of this volume.  In addition, we also get some further hints at what Thugboy was doing in San Antonio back in the day, and later on find out the real truth about just why there’s now a supervolcano in that city now.

Though that ties in directly with the main story in this volume, there’s also some talk about the superheroes who preceded the Superhomeys and the whole changing of the guard that the conflict in San Antonio prompted.  That’s the first we’ve heard of any kind of “legacy” in this title, and now I find myself curious as to what kind of superheroic history this world has.  More to the point, were they as bad or worse than the Superhomeys are now?

Anyway, the real meat of this volume is in its second half which is entitled, “I Never Looked In Your Eyes; I Never Heard Your Voice.”  With a title as dramatic and bordering on pretentious as this, you’d hope that Warren really delivers the goods here.  That he does, even though this is where the above-mentioned “bet hedging” issue comes in.  While the descent into hell and encounter with the ISP is fraught -- FRAUGHT, I say -- with thrilling action, drama and welcome catharsis at the end, Spooky has a lot to say during it.

A lot of this revolves around how her powers work and how she’s used them both against and even for Empowered over the years.  Now, I think that Warren had a really good basis for their antagonism established in the very first volume.  Emp reminded Spooky of the girls who tormented her in high school and she hated her for that and the fact that the bondage-prone-superheroine wouldn’t. ever. quit. no matter how bad things got in her career.  It was a clear, believable setup for their relationship and I liked seeing things develop to the point where Spooky actually asks Emp to help her out in her quest and Emp doesn’t just agree, she insists on coming along.

That was good.  I liked seeing the two superheroines come to an understanding here.  What we didn’t need was all the other clutter Warren provides regarding Spooky’s mindset in this regard.  As it turns out, Spooky’s initial hatred of Emp was so great that she had a fairly significant role in spurring on the bondage-fests that ensue whenever she’s captured.  In addition, Spooky even tried to undo things once she saw the way things were going.  It feels as if Warren didn’t trust his audience enough to see the through-line in the Emp/Spooky relationship and feel the necessary empathy for the latter superheroine, and the result grates for a little while.

I don’t know why Warren felt the need to do this as he completes the job of making Spooky into a fully sympathetic character here.  In case going into Hell to rescue the one you loved wasn’t enough, we get to see some pivotal moments in her relationship with Mindf---.  Having the latter piggyback her senses onto her lover’s tastebuds so she could actually experience the taste of shrimp was nice.  More effective is seeing Spooky deal with the nightmares that creep out of Mindf---’s head at night.  These are some of the most disturbing parts of the entire series as we see exactly what kind of a madman Mindf---’s brother was and just how he compelled his sister to mutilate herself.  Spooky says that the one time she truly felt like a superhero was when she struggled to deal with the images pouring into her head so that Mindf--- could sleep peacefully in her arms.  As seen on the page, I concur with her wholeheartedly.

That scene also underlines why “Empowered” works so well as a series and is able to transcend its T&A roots, in addition to the T&A it traffics in with each volume.  There’s always a solid emotional core to the characters and their relationships that feels utterly believable on the page.  It’s an oft-repeated sentiment that if a creator can get an audience to care about their characters they they can get away with anything.  With his work on this series, Warren continues to prove that sentiment true.

Jason Glick

(Warren also expresses his displeasure at constantly being asked if he has an ending in mind for “Empowered” via the title character in the final pages.  The short version:  Don’t expect one anytime soon.  If I had to hazard a guess, given that vols. 1-4 and 5-8 could very roughly be separated in arcs, the potential vol. 12 may seem like a logical stopping point.   That being said, I’ll never ask or even speculate on an ending for this title again if we can get some confirmation when or even if the various “Empowered” specials released over the years will be collected.  So, how about it Adam?)

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