In the newest volume of Adam Warren’s Empowered series, we start out with a recap of Emp’s most recent (mis)adventures, watch her superhero “allies” betray her completely, and see her exiled (in bondage of course) to an uncertain fate at a maximum security ward “for her own safety.”
What follows is a surprisingly lighthearted (yet dark and disturbing) series of multiple kidnappings as teams of villains one-by-one try to capture Emp for their own evil ends. And the resolution is somehow ridiculous, logical, and honestly kinda heartwarming all at once.
Click the jump for a review of Empowered Volume 9.
Emp and her easily-torn super suit have to appear at a Superhomey Tribunal to answer for all the scrapes she’s been in lately. However, the main concern isn’t that she’s defeated super villains way above her pay-grade, ended up in a Bondage Device Infomercial, or let a cancer patient tie her up as his dying request. It’s that somehow she was able to use a Lotus Node™ portal to access the hugely restricted asteroid Object 524, resting place of alien technology; technology that once let the Good Guys accidentally create the San Antonio Supervolcano, so it’s understandably off limits.
As no one (not even Emp) knows how she did it, the Tribunal is worried that the easily-captured Emp will be a target for every super villain wanting to upgrade their arsenal. Rather than give her a say in the matter, they just truss her up and send her off to protective custody.
She’s intercepted on the way. Several times. Once by someone trying to save her, and many, many times by super villains who’ve somehow gotten word of her location.
Each super villain is a testimony to Warren’s wonderfully warped sense of humor; we meet Cephalopunk, Ant Lionness, Zappatista, Dreadnaughty Naughty, Lamprey Lad, and a host of other hilariously named, excellently illustrated bad guys.
I’d tell you how it resolves, but I don’t want to give it away. But as a hint: what else is someone who’s frequently trussed up in villains’ lairs going to do with all that down-time?
Adam Warren’s artwork will always be the biggest draw for me; I’ve loved his American-style manga since the earliest of his Dirty Pair issues. (Though his later Dirty Pair books are even better.)
But his storytelling really carries these books, especially since they’re so controversial: it’d be easy to write off the Empowered series as sheer cheesecake, what with a main character who wears a skin-tight suit and is so often tied up and gagged.
But he raises so many questions. (Not to get preachy; Adam Warren isn’t, but sometimes I am.) Emp is frequently taunted because her costume is so revealing. Never mind the fact that she has no control over how her suit works, and that if she wears anything over it, it stops working. What I’m curious about is: should a woman (or man) be judged just by how much skin they’re showing?
It’s easy to say yes. It’s easy to say “if she wanted to be taken seriously she wouldn’t be wearing that.”
But maybe that leads us down a bad path. Shouldn’t people wear what they want, regardless of body type or gender? Should someone’s appearance dictate how people treat them? Isn’t it easy to say “you can wear what you want as long as it’s attractive?” Who decides what’s attractive?
Also, isn’t it a short hop from “she’s too scantily clad” to “she’s asking for it?”
And on the other hand, I like the fact that while Emp is a badass, and frequently gets herself out of bad situations, she’s also vulnerable. I don’t think we should lose sight of that. Yes we want a strong character, male or female; a tough character, a badass character. But if they need help from time to time, isn’t that a human thing too?
I think it works because Warren has created characters that we genuinely like, and care about. Should we feel bad if we like to see someone we care about rescued, or just comforted, from time to time? It’s a trope because it means something to us, and I don’t think we should always feel bad about it.
But we also shouldn’t feel bad about liking a kickass, self-conscious, beautiful, easily overwhelmed, often self-sufficient heroine. I think Warren has hit the balance just right.
Art and story by Adam Warren.