There are some superhero comic books that transcend the trappings of their time and the form and seem to sum up an age. X-Men from Lee & Kirby, and Claremont & Byrne, Watchmen and Dark Knight, The Authority and Miracleman… sometimes we can only see exactly what they were and what they meant in hindsight.
I get the feeling that when we look back. Empowered will be one of those.
Empowered is the comic book by Adam Warren published by Dark Horse Comics that both has its cheesecake and eats it. Ostensibly, it is a comic book about a young, nubile superheroine with a propensity for his costume to rip into small pieces during battle, and for her to be constantly gagged and bound by the supervillains she fights.
In standard comics, this kind of thing would be attempted to be made up for by having the character be a “strong, independent woman”, confident in her body, battling, bruising, and taking out the bad guys
But Emp is not that, She is emotionally weak, nervous, fragile, embarrassed and crippled by self doubt.
And it’s from that low point that she consistently finds a way to not only challenge and critique her situation (self doubt, remember but find a way out from the depths to – if not heights, at least a ground floor exit.
While the specific details of the comic are cheesecake BDSM fantasy, they are strangely transferable to the binds of mundane everyday living. It points out the trappings, the political insanity of it all, while also providing a far more genuine sexuality between the characters, away from ball gags and ankle chains. Instead we get frustrated sexuality mixed with friendship, compromise and psychological issues, while looking at fandom culture, expectation, attitudes towards women and expectations of men. All tied up by a manga-esque style that remains embedded in more Western traditions.
It’s really good. Even if you might want to hide it inside another comic to read it in public.
The online series, hosted by the fine folks at the creator-owned webcomic digital studio and publisher Hiveworks, kicks off with an at-launch archive of the first 108 pages or so of Empowered vol. 1, which takes us up through the introduction of the “Big Four” main characters—Empowered herself, her ex-Witless-Minion boyfriend Thugboy, her hard-drinking BFF Ninjette, and (of course) the inimitable Caged Demonwolf.
Note that every page of Empowered‘s online version features commentary on said page by yours truly, in an effort to give current readers of the series’ print version an incentive to check out the webcomic. Hope you enjoy that part, longtime readers! That is, I really hope you get something outta that, as I’ve spent many an hour cranking out said commentary. (That said, I’m promising to do commentary for all of vol. 1’s pages, at least; I’ll have to reevaluate the viability of the rather time-consuming commentary process we get into vol. 2.)
If I do say so myself, this cover isn’t a bad illustration at all, but is plagued by a few stylistic idiosyncrasies and artistic choices which no longer appeal to me. My art style hasn’t evolved all that radically over the last decade, but the intervening years—and 2000-odd pages ofEmpowered production—have nonetheless burned me out on certain tics and flourishes I favored back at the series’ start. My main problem, here, would be the undulating wonkiness of our title character’s lower torso and hips, which kinda got away from me somewhere between initial rough sketch and finished inks. For the record, you’ll see far more severe lower-torso wonkiness on poor Empowered—or “Emp,” for short—in pages to come. For much of this series’ early volumes, I was plagued by an sporadically recurring drawing error that, years later, I’ve dubbed “The Mysteriously Intermittent Millennial Torso Glitch.” Every now and then, for reasons still unclear to me, I’d end up drawing Emp’s waist excessively—if not bizarrely—skinny, despite having no deliberate intention of depicting her so. Oddly, the Torso Glitch stopped recurring four or five years ago; in a future commentary, I’ll rattle off my semi-plausible theories and half-baked rationales for why this problem might’ve happened to my artwork.