Empowered Volume 3 – Adam Warren

This is more of the same dichotomy. Soft-core cheesecake of mangaesque superheroines in bondage alternated with sickly cute heart-warming relationship tales. There is a lot more fetish for your buck in this one and the sexy librarian makes a gratuitous return. Also another regular glimpse into Thugboy’s dark past.

Warren seems to be stretching himself in all areas. There an ultraviolent fight scene which is a new direction. There is a tale with quite a sophisticated timeline and another which cuts away to a visual metaphor. We also see two tales which feature marker pen for the art. Whilst appropriate for the theme it contrasts just how sophisticated his pencil work is.

You do get to learn ‘Jette and Emp’s real names and the super suit does something new. You also get to learn some more obscure manga terms if you aren’t familiar with the medium. It is getting harder to justify the Thumbs Up but as the cute story was exceptionally cute and the fight scene had very strong art it gets one.

205/160

Tomorrow: Empowered Volume 4 – Adam Warren

Empowered Volume 2 – Adam Warren

This continues the gender satire/ soft porn theme established in the first book. All the characters return but this time the stories are longer. This is a very disjointed read if you work through the whole book in one sitting as you change abruptly from virtually pornographic sexy librarian fantasy to the tragic and emotional death of a child’s father.

Warren is very good at what he does. His art is perfect for the Manga/ Pin-up style he has chosen and he is capable of investing real emotion and drama within his storylines. The “Empowered” commentary between issues has disappeared however so you cut directly from one story to another which, considering his emotional range, can be quite a shock. If this were a weekly webcomic it would be a much more digestible format.

But interesting things are happening. We find out more about the super-suit, Ninjette’s past and future, and also more on Thugboy’s dark secret. Empowered also shares a shocking moment from her childhood. Even the disembodied Demonwolf gets setup for a future storyline. The satire has become subtle to the point of evaporating but it is there amongst the personal rants against DVD prices.

The art is identical to the first volume and there is a really fluid action scene. Most of the characters faces are Manga caricatures but he does a great job of more Western features in some of the guest stars. And the hot librarian scene (without any nudity) is probably the hottest librarian scene you could ever wish to see – if that is why you are buying this.

Story-wise the future looks great even if the short chapters have you bouncing like an emotional yo-yo. It is a Thumbs Up.

204/161

Tomorrow: Empowered Volume 3 – Adam Warren

Empowered: Volume 1 – Adam Warren

You can write and draw super-heroines in skimpy costumes, bondage, or next to nothing for titillation value or, if you are clever, you can do this for genuine satire. You the reader will have to make up your own mind up which side of the line this work falls. There is small part of me that thinks the writer is actually trying to get away with both.

We follow young super-heroine “Empowered” as she juggles a skin-tight costume (more fragile than a moth’s wing), lame powers, stuck-up teammates, a regular job and a love life. This book is presented as a lengthy series of short sketches inviting the reader to laugh at our protagonist’s latest predicament, which usually features her tied up or mostly naked.

If this work has a genre its paragons would be Garth Ennis’ The Pro whose humour is unparalleled; or The Boys whose balls-out satire really bites hard. But this book grows. Between some of these sketches “Empowered” addresses the reader directly and makes some quite astute comments on our voyeurism. She usually thinks her way out of whatever predicament she is in rather than relying on powers or a rescuer. Other characters are introduced and a rounded, emotional storyline develops. It also has an incredibly dark and jarring moment that really hits you hard setting up some more involving storylines for the future.

The art is entirely pencil drawn and hand lettered in an unmistakably manga style. This means the whole thing has a very dark, shaded look to it. It is well executed but every page looks like an advert for charcoal. There is nudity although you never see a nipple or a groin but there is sex and even some intimate depilation. We also don’t get to see our protagonist’s eyes as she wears an opaque mask most of the time resulting in some quite uncomfortable objectification. This makes you wonder if you should be feeling guilty while you read or not.

It is no Sucker Punch and it took over 200 pages to convince me but this eventually crosses the line as a Thumbs up!

203/162

Tomorrow: Empowered Volume 2 – Adam Warren

Tomb Raider: Pieces of Zero – Dan Jurgens

The Tomb Raider franchise has pushed the boundaries of the fantastic with myths and legends from around the world. But it always felt tangible with a Conan Doyle’s Lost World feel to things. Just like the fourth Indiana Jones film this book pushes things a little too far.

This is a shame as it is actually a nicely put together tale. The pace is frenetic without becoming ludicrous, there are genuine moments of tension, characters from previous stories appear and there is an intriguing mystery. It’s just not Lara.

The art is a little odd with some quite detailed backgrounds but with minimal detail on the characters. There is a lot of effort on the colourist’s part adding much of the depth and realism of the piece.

If this was an unknown female heroine this would be a passable tale and might scrape a thumbs up. Because it has an iconic pedigree to live up to it falls short. No Thumbs today!

202/163

Tomorrow: Empowered: Volume 1 – Adam Warren

Vamps – Elaine Lee

Five sexy motorbike riding vampire girls. A bored and lazy writer could create something truly dire with that premise. But a talented female author could really pull a rabbit out of the hat with this setup. And that’s what we have here.

Like most monster stories it’s about the humanity. This is a moving and emotional tale of a woman’s struggle against a world stacked against her. Our lead character’s thoughts and narration is a big part of the book and it is eloquent to the point of being poetic. There are streams of consciousness, intense feelings, poignant observations and innermost thoughts. This is very grown-up stuff indeed. There is also a dramatic and tense storyline: a really thrilling journey whose end you can picture, but not be certain of.

The art is ok but the colouring is disappointing. It is that flat, paint by numbers block colouring from the bad old days of four-color comics – something Vertigo seems famous for. It won’t distract you from the gripping ride but could have been so much more. There is a great candle-lit scene at the end that shows you just how creatively you can push this limited technique however. There are also some astonishing full colour Brian Bolland covers.

There is an extensive afterword by the author discussing how the book came to be.

For creating a work that truly defines the “mature” label I give this a Double Thumbs Up!

201/165

Tomorrow: Tomb Raider: Pieces of Zero – Dan Jurgens

Where’s it at Sugar Kat? – The Thin of the Land – Ian Carney & Woodrow Phoenix

This is a humorous and nonsensical work in the same vein as the Tozzer series. Two sisters, one pretty and dumb the other smart and awkward, solve mysteries Scooby Doo style.

There might be a bit of subtext and social commentary concerning obesity and media expectations but it is overshadowed by inanity. It’s a fun book; something for a car journey or a long bowel movement.

The art is black and grey webcomic style and perfect for this piece. It has a playful and anarchic style with disembodied heads delivering what would be off camera speech and hands extending from narration bubbles to point things out.

There is a plot and to be fair you probably won’t guess where it ends up which is quite entertaining. I have never seen a character burst into song in a comic either. Nor would I expect lines such as “pointy sticks are the new black.”

There are some character doodles, a bonus story and a lengthy light-hearted interview with the creators.

For individuality and entertainment value this gets a Thumbs Up!

200/165

Tomorrow: Vamps – Elaine Lee

Valentine: Fully Loaded – Daniel Cooney

This is a Bourne Identity style espionage book but with a well-rounded female protagonist instead of a dull cypher. It is a familiar “who can you trust” storyline but well executed.

The heroine Dana Valentine is likable, believable and has a witty and audience-friendly internal monologue. The plot is easy to follow and only resorts to talking heads exposition/ bad-guy-reveals-all on two occasions.

The art is black and white with some grey thrown in occasionally. There is a bit of digital motion blur but overall it feels hand-drawn. This fits very well and the white on black night scenes are well executed. All the characters have a distinctive look and are easy to identify. There are some real photographs for landscapes, pictures and computer screens digitized onto the page and this is quite a jarring contrast to the freehand style.

There is a character biography at the start which could be handy but gives away too much of the plot before you read it. There is also an in-character dossier on the hero at the end which seems unnecessary. Some original sketches and design notes are also present.

For a good effort, Thumbs Up!

199/166.

Tomorrow: Where’s it at Sugar Kat: The Thin of the Land – Ian Carney & Woodrow Phoenix

Shi: The Way of the Warrior – William Tucci

This represents all that is great in self-publishing: one person with a vision and the courage to stick to it no matter how bold and unique it is.

Shi is a woman descended from a line of Japanese warriors who fights against the Yakuza on the streets of New York City.

This is a dense read with dialogue, internal monologue, narration, and recollection all on the same page. The story flips forwards and backwards in time, scenes change from panel to panel, characters discuss philosophy and art history in depth and the whole work is littered with quotes from the Bible, Sun Tzu, and even Bruce Lee. You wouldn’t read this to idly pass the time. It takes a bit of thought to untangle the threads.

The art is incredibly enthusiastic. You can tell this is a labour of love. Each panel is packed full of much more detail than you would normally expect. There are bold angles and a lot of experimental ideas. The bordering is highly unusual and there is a lot of intentional bleed and crossover between frames.

You can actually see the style changing from issue to issue as Tucci discovers new techniques and becomes more confident as an artist. He will try something for a few pages just to see what happens and often this is a great success. The whole work is full colour which is incredibly unusual for a self-published work. It is worth going back and looking at some of the beautiful compositions and artistic choices made. This is an inspirational work for anyone thinking of creating their own book.

Being self-published there are a couple of typos and misprints but they make you admire and respect the work even more. This is where the iconic Shi began back in the 1980’s. There is a two page introduction by X-Men guru Chris Claremont delving into the history of comics. The author also talks about his inspiration and there are very early design sketches showing Shi’s evolution.

This is the opening part of an on-going story so there is no resolution at the end but a dramatic setup for the next instalment. It is only four issues long but the concentration of the script makes it feel lengthier. The deep narrative also distracts you from the fact the heroine spends a lot of her time in a very skimpy outfit.

For the sheer amount of effort it must have taken to produce this and the overwhelming originality packed in I give this a Double Thumbs Up!

198/167.

Tomorrow: Valentine: Fully Loaded – Daniel Cooney

Shekhar Kapur’s Snake Woman: Volume Three – Zeb Wells

They have definitely saved the best until last. This is a far cry from the shaky beginnings of volume one. By embracing the Indian culture and mythology we are given a much richer tale. There is genuine drama and real tension running through the book.

The art is equally rich but seems change midway through shifting from fuzzy, almost impressionistic, images to crisp and sharp renderings. There are some well-constructed vignettes and beautiful perspective bringing a great deal of depth to the page.

This is the best of the volumes and presents a satisfying conclusion, probably slightly different from the one you were expecting.

Thumbs Up!

197/168.

Tomorrow: Shi: The Way of the Warrior – William Tucci

Shekhar Kapur’s Snake Woman: Volume Two – Zeb Wells

Things have definitely improved since the last volume. The action is faster, the storyline tighter and the stakes are getting higher. The 68 is an intriguing premise and we get to see their latest incarnations, from serial killers to simple-minded janitors. The injection of character-driven plot is most welcome.

The art has had a bit of a shakeup too with a crisper, more digital feel to it. There are some nice scenes but gone are the beautifully coloured flashbacks from volume one.

There is also the origin tale tucked in at the back that doesn’t add anything to the story.

This earns its Thumbs Up and makes you want to continue with the tale.

196/169.

Tomorrow: Shekhar Kapur’s Snake Woman: Volume Two – Zeb Wells