Empowered Vol. 1 (Dark Horse)

empheaderManga-style master Adam Warren turns the creepy, fetishistic side of superheroes on its ear, crafting the funniest comic so far this year.

 

248 pgs B&W; $14.95

(W / A: Adam Warren)

 

Comic book artists, god bless ‘em, put up with some very, very strange sketch/commission requests from fans, especially when said artist happens to have a gift for drawing the female form. Adam Warren certainly has a knack for drawing the ladies, as evidenced by his various miniseries adapting the anime series The Dirty Pair or his run on Gen 13 for Wildstorm, which naturally means he was fending off requests for downright creepy bondage art left and right. But rather than simply drawing sexed-up pin-ups, Warren instead invented an oft-imperiled heroine that he could draw in short 1-to-2 page stories that both fit the, ahem, needs of his fans and yet still managed to scratch his artistic itch. The more stories he drew, the more personality the character developed until soon Warren had a plethora of running gags, an ever-widening supporting cast, and far too many ideas to not explore them with greater depth. And thus Empowered was born.

 

The cover to Empowered Vol. 1 by Adam Warren. Click thumbnail for a larger image.Empowered is the tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek name of both Warren's new series and its sexy star. Emp's got a super-thin, skintight super-suit that grants her powers but has an interesting problem: whenever the suit gets torn, her powers weaken. This puts Emp firmly in the B-squad of the not-so-super Super-Homeys, as each of her battles invariably ends with her costume torn to shreds and poor Emp bound and gagged as frustrated teammates like Captain Rivet, Major Havoc, and Sistah Spooky come to her rescue. The none-too-flattering costume and constant defeats understandably give Emp some severe self-esteem issues, yet she still manages to score a boyfriend in Thugboy, a studly witless-minion-for-hire she runs into more than once on the job. Add in enemy-turned-gal-pal Ninjette and the Violator of Worlds (a sadistic alien warlord trapped in a utility belt that becomes her unwilling roomie) and things really start cooking.

 

What could have been a one-note exercise in hypersexualization instead becomes a surprisingly textured work in Warren's able hands. For starters, as anyone who has read his previous works already knows, Warren's ear for dialogue is uncanny. His completely singular writing style — packed with pop culture references, goofy characters with their own uniquely odd mannerisms, and quadruple-layered running gags — is quite unlike any other writer working today. Warren's kinetic art, however, is the book's biggest selling point, and Empowered showcases it in all its gloriously raw glory, reproducing directly from Warren's original pencils with no inks, digital or otherwise. He wears his manga influence on his sleeve, giving his characters the requisite doe eyes and huge mouths and illustrating the action with fields of speedlines that crackle on the page.

 

Interior art from Empowered by Adam Warren. Click thumbnail for a larger image.As Emp herself points out in one of the many fourth wall-breaking "meta-textual" chapter breaks, "This comic might be too ‘superhero-y' for manga readers and too ‘manga-y'for superhero readers." It's also probably too sexed-up for most readers period; despite a complete lack of actual nudity, the sexualized content is in your face on nearly every page, more than earning the book its "parental advisory" warning. Yet anyone using any of the above as an excuse would be sorely doing themselves a disservice. Comics rarely come more off-the-wall or absurd than Empowered, easily the funniest comic released so far this year. Volume 2 promises longer stories and an even more developed plot; keep your eyes peeled. | Jason Green

Click here for a whopping FOURTEEN PAGE preview of Empowered Vol. 1, courtesy of DarkHorse.com!

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