Empowered 9 – Adam Warren

Empowered 9
This is certainly an unpredictable book with definite highs and lows. It starts off with what you think is a great recap. Which after 70 pages you realise is the comic book equivalent of a clip show. But the story does kick off, and make sense and progress.

Emp reveals some new powers which have a great payoff. But then there is the lurid spanking fanfic part. Which is supposed to be ironic so that is all right. Right? Thankfully the dire verbiage of the intergalactic conqueror only lasts a page. But for some reason every other character that turns up has an atrocious word-mangling dialect.

There is a lot of author politics (as in party politics) on display which is unusual for an Empowered title. Plus a grumble at the state of the comics industry and the internet. And the whole thing could be an allegory for the debate on Civil Rights verses Government Responsibility.

The art has settled down. The black pages are terrible fingerprint magnets. But there are finer lines and more subtle shading returning to displace the nasty black outlines of previous volumes. There is a Parental Advisory sticker on the front. You wonder why it is there until you get to the scenes where you don’t.

Is the book cleverer than you worry it is? Is it actually empowering or is it just cheesecake of the bad kind. Or is Warren dangerous enough to court both camps. You decide.

Still a Thumbs Up!

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Empowered 8 – Adam Warren

Empowered 8Talk, talk, talk. Empowered is traditionally wordy but this seeks to set new standards. Between the massive monologues, the bold, the underline and now parenthesis, this is getting hard on the brain, even before the thesauri-baiting. Thankfully it doesn’t last and the second half of the book goes back to the gooey, romantic and truly heroic feelings within us that Warren has a gift for tapping into. Sometimes heroes need saving and Emp understands that more than most. The artwork is still overusing the heavy blacks although these are now mostly used for environments. In a pinup comic you want to see fine lines and delicate shading, and you know from previous volumes Warren is good at it, so let’s hope we get to see more in future. It was a bit shaky at first but it is still a Thumbs Up!

Empowered: Unchained – Adam Warren

Empowered UnchainedThis is a collection of one shots (single part stories) executed in an unusual style. Presumably these were FCB day or other promo works. They are all written by Warren but partially drawn by other artists. I say partially drawn as the stories are drawn by other artists except for certain asides or flashbacks which are drawn by Warren in his traditional style.

This is confusing. Not to read but to understand why. You can take out these asides and they read just fine making you think they were added after the fact to bulk out the page count. Most of the new artists draw in colour too which, although we are familiar with colour covers, aren’t the superb monochromes we are used to.

The whole thing is bizarre. Not unpleasant but you would probably have another traditional volume of Empowered. One with a story long enough to get your teeth into and better advancement and use of the characters. You will buy this as a completist and chuckle once or twice but put it at the bottom of your wishlist. It definitely isn’t a good trial volume for the new reader to dip their toe in.

Thumbs Up but it’s not a regular volume.

Empowered Volume 7 – Adam Warren

This is an odd volume that eventually comes good. Ninjette seems to be the focus of this book as we learn more about her backstory and that of Oyuki, plus we see her latest entanglement with the Ayakami clan. She also tries to help Emp with her confidence issues. This extra screen time for ‘Jette is a nice diversion and serves to enlarge and enrich the Empowered world. Plus she isn’t ready to carry off a book of her own just yet.

The other thing you notice is that all sorts of fancy tricks are being played with the timeline. We have premonitions, flashbacks, foreshadowing and blatant out-of-sequence narrative. Whilst this certainly keeps you awake and active, as you are forced to keep reshuffling what you have read into some sort of chronology, it is distracting. The key to the Empowered mythos is “heart.” It’s about letting us know it is ok to be vulnerable. We don’t need gimmicks to grab our attention. If we are still here after seven volumes then we are here to stay.

The art is still as good as ever but the paper has changed to gloss instead of matt and this makes a big difference. Initially it is jarring change, particularly if you have just read the last book, but you get used to it. There is much more contrast as the whites are much shinier and so the page becomes crisper and less grungy.

As always there is a whole mix of cute, sexy, thinky, funny, naughty, fighty stuff all mixed into one massive gumbo that seems to work against all odds. Another Thumbs Up for the fans.

209/156

Tomorrow: Wet Moon – book 1: Feeble Wanderings – Ross Campbell

Empowered Volume 6 – Adam Warren

The pendulum has now swung the other way. We have left gratuitous bondage titillation and moved into serious gripping storyline territory. Trouble is we aren’t used to thoughtful drama. The previous Empowered was squarely in the so-bad-it’s-good area as it had a quirky, original charm all of its own. Now it has gone sombre and hard hitting us readers are a bit confused.

The art is just the same but with more action. Warren gets a chance to flex his artistic muscles. There are some good angles and dynamic poses. The amount of black on the page could be seen as a drawback but the grungy style seems to work.

Other than the growing pains as we transition from base (but funny) comedy to serious drama this certainly gets a Thumbs Up!

208/157

Tomorrow: Empowered Volume 7 – Adam Warren

Empowered Volume 5 – Adam Warren

Once again it is the final tale in this volume that is the true star of the show. It is gripping, dramatic, emotional and even moving. The other stories aren’t too bad with most of them being quite clever or moving the overall Willy Pete and other storylines forward. There is a protracted, gratuitous duct-tape bondage skit and a Demonwolf filibuster that goes on so long your brain shuts down from all the verbiage.

The art is all pencil save for a dramatic double page spread at the end that needs the absolute black of a marker. I am not sure if this is getting better as a whole but that last story is a definite Thumbs Up!

207/158

Tomorrow: Empowered Volume 6 – Adam Warren

Empowered Volume 4 – Adam Warren

Reliable. Predictable. That’s what Empowered stands for. You get your damsel-in-distress fix and then your relationship angst to make you feel less of a pervert. There is a bit of a dark undercurrent with Thugboy’s past which may never come to the fore too. Occasionally you get a glimpse of Warren’s potential with some incredible art or thesaurus exploding wordplay.

It isn’t until the last story in this volume that you get to see Empowered shift into a higher gear. This is the longest story so far and leaves the kink behind for a mainstream cape tale which is actually very enjoyable. It has some touching revelations about a secondary character, moves the Thugboy plot forward, and finally lets Emp kick some, using her brain once more to save the day.

Before this there is the usual juxtaposition of weird themes. A cancer boy whose make-a-wish is for a bit of bondage? Yep! Willy Pete gets even more sinister? Yep! Sexual tension in the household? You know it! Compared to the fetish-fest that was volume three this one is a lot tamer. Apart from the gratuitous busty nurses.

The main art is entirely pencil which is Warren’s undoubted strength. There is a bonus story taken from the Dark Horse website which is in full colour. Like putting Usagi Yojimbo into colour there is something fundamentally awkward about this. Having your kink in colour makes it a little more uncomfortably voyeuristic.

This is a step up from the previous volume. The more mainstream direction really works so it will be interesting to see if a balance can be found in the next instalment. Thumbs Up!

206/159

Tomorrow: Empowered Volume 5 – Adam Warren

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