Empowered – Having Your Cheesecake And Eating It

A version of this article appeared in yesterday’s New York Post;

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There’s an new issue of the comic Empowered by Adam Warren out today from Dark Horse Comics. The comic that loves to have its cake and eat it. Because, yes, we get scenes such as the above.

But then it gets metatextualised as all hell.

EMPOWAS PG 24

A superheroine struggling with the fact that her very powers seem to defeat her – a costume that gives her superpowers but that tears very easily – at which point all her powers disappear. Combine that with a disastrous level of low self esteem, she is the opposite of the post modern superheroine, the Buffy, the Tank Girl, the Tomb Raider – she is, in effect, a very weak superwoman.

Until you discover that she keeps on going. Finds new moments of inspiration. And, even when bound and gagged, never actually surrenders. And eventually, like the tortoise and the hare, wins. Wins big. It’s always wonderful. Despite her low self esteem, she is clever, resourceful and uses her reputation as a loser to give her foes a false sense of security.

She’s Emp, and she’s one of the best current comic book supercharacters. It’s a very subversive form of feminism and sexual warfare that totally and unashamedly gets unreconstructed heterosexual males to buy into these fetishistic images and then gives them a lesson in sexual politics while doing so.

Because, as she says, this sort of thing does seem to keep happening to female superheroines. Wonder Woman is the classic, created by the inventor of the lie detector, William Moulton Marston, she seemed to get tied up and gagged at a moment’s notice – and also liked doing the same to others with her truth-telling lassoe. And Catwoman? She’s a walking gimp these days, with a zip to show off cleavage.

But maybe things are changing. This week, DC Comics have been showing off their Villain Month covers for September, where all the villains take control of the DC Universe. And all the heroes… well… you tell me.

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Batman even gets gagged a few times. Clearly this is a fight for gender equality on DC’s part. Although we haven’t seen the Wonder Woman or Catwoman covers for Villain Month yet … (UPDATE: We’ve seen Wonder Woman. And yes, she’s bound tight…)

Empowered doesn’t just stop there of course. She also tackles important memes concerning the portrayal of women in comics and comics culture, namely accusations of Fake Geek Girl and the famous Brokeback pose

EMPOWAS PG 29

EMPOWAS PG 13

Empowered is an acquired taste. It can take a little while to get your head into the right space to be smothered by such sophisticated and ironic cheesecake. But once it clicks, this could be your favourite comic ever. Just… be careful trying to explain why you like it so much to anyone else.

Empowered Special: Animal Style by Adam Warren and John Staton was published yesterday by Dark Horse Comics.

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