Paging François Truffaut

Empowered Unchained — Adam Warren
Empowered Unchained, book 1

EMP-U

Two reasons for this review: 1) I have been in the mood for superhero stuff recently and 2) I read a book about Wonder Woman last week. A book which reminded me that Wonder Woman ended up tied up a lot, and that her creator had a bondage kink. Which led me to wonder if there were any more superhero + bondage stories out there … which in turn led me to Adam Warren’s comic series Empowered. Perhaps I should have started with volume one of the collected Empowered stories, but I misread a catalogue entry and reserved Empowered Unchained, which collects several special issues.

Empowered is the nom de superhero of Elissa Megan Powers, AKA Emp. She is famous, not so much for the skill with which she uses her degree in Metahuman Studies or for the superpowers granted by her hypermembrane suit, but for the extreme unreliability of her suit. Consequently, all too often she ends up hog-tied and immobilized in some undignified pose by one of her obnoxious enemies.

The suit is skin-tight. When it is not in shreds. Oh, and Emp has body image issues.



This volume collects six special issues:

Empowered Special #1: Wench with a Million Sighs:

Emp’s hunky boyfriend Thugboy, the caged demon-in-a-bottle Caged Demonwolf, and Emp’s best friend Ninjette are kicking back in Emp’s place. While they’re gossiping about Emp, Emp is off wrestling with a heavily armed criminal eager to loot a graveyard: the Suprahuman Mausoleum, which is chock full of dead superheroes and their valuable stuff.

Comments:

I was reminded somewhat of Kurtzman and Wood’s classic Superduperman from Mad issue 4. Not so much the art (the art in Empowered is manga-influenced and not at all Mad-style) but the plot twist. Emp cannot depend on her suit (which degrades rapidly in combat) to overpower her enemies: she has to outthink them.

Emp’s suit is so fragile that I have to wonder if it was actually
designed for combat. It looks like it would have a lot of cool non-combat applications.

The superhero graveyard is surprisingly well populated. Perhaps the average lifespan of a superhero is not all that long.

Empowered Special #2: Ten Questions for the Maidman:

The cross-dressing Maidman agrees, for reasons he does not immediately disclose, to a televised interview. In a parallel plotline, Empowered uses the legitimate fear villains have of the highly effective Maidman as a tool in her ongoing campaign against evil! But she goes back to the “Look out behind you! It’s Maidman” well once too often….

Comments:

Maidman and Emp do encounter each other towards the end of the story and he is one of the very few male superheroes who doesn’t behave like a jerk to Emp. Her boyfriend Thugboy is a nice guy, sort of, but he isn’t a superhero, but a retired minion.

Empowered Special #3: Hell Bent or Heaven Sent:

Emp is detailed to monitor duty in the Vault, a repository of confiscated supervillain tech. Disaster looms. A nanotech horror has infected the Vault and is turning stuff in the Vault into ravening sexbots. If Emp cannot halt the infection, the Vault’s automatic defences will open a wormhole connection to the Sun. Vault cleansed, Emp dead. Tick tock.

Comments:

The suit seems to degrade quickly when damaged, but it maintains its basic defensive functions to the end. Emp can be overpowered and tied up, but she can’t actually be hurt. I wonder if the suit would be effective against a gout of plasma from the heart of the sun?

Empowered Special #4: Animal Style:

None of the alternate-universe vehicles on display at the Alternate Timeline Superhero auto show can be removed from the Parachronozone … so why is a team of animal-themed supervillains trying to steal them?

Comments:

Die Hard in a Car Show! With Superpowers!

I would hate to be an insurance agent in the City. At least Emp (and presumably her author as well) has put a lot of thought into how to use a commandeered car effectively, rather than trashing someone else’s ride with a single toss.

Empowered Special #5: Nine Beers with Ninjette:

In which we learn the extremely Caucasian Kozue “Ninjette” Kaburagi’s backstory. She has serious PTSD, thanks to her violently misogynistic weeaboo father.

Comment:

In Daddy’s eyes, Ninjette was nothing but a potential brood mare, who might possibly birth superior ninjas. Whether she agreed to that role or not. And he’s willing to lop off her arms and legs to keep her focused on her duties. There’s not much evidence that specialist superhero therapy exists in this universe, but if there were such a thing, Ninjette would be first in line for shrinkage.

Empowered Special #6: Internal Medicine:

Ninjette and Emp team up to save an imperilled alien baby. A) It’s just the right thing to do and B) the alien mom will sterilize the City if her child dies. But Ninjette and Emp’s frantic efforts may be doomed by Emp’s inability to follow directions…

Comments:

Well, also by misleading signage. And usually when you get off on the wrong floor in a hospital, that floor does not then try to eat you.

Poor Ninjette.

General comments:

Warren, the author, makes it pretty clear that any of Emp’s teammates who treat her like crap are jerks, and that the bad guys who delight in hog-tying her are vicious losers. While it’s too bad that Emp’s suit is so unreliable, it’s good that she’s good at thinking her way out of dicey situations. Too many of the other superheroes relay on their superpowers, not on their brains1.

Still, it’s obvious that Emp survives because PLOT NECESSITY, not because the plot is plausible. The hero of the series cannot die, right? But … there sure were a lot of dead superheroes in the Suprahuman Mausoleum. If they had series, those series ended tragically.

Empowered seems to have started out as a series of pervy drawings Warren did for fans. So while I may appreciate the feminist trappings of the series, I cannot shake the feeling that the art is all about objectifying women. The comic embodies the very thing it critiques. In fact, it would be a fine example for TV Tropes’ Do Not Do This Cool Thing, which used to be called “Truffaut was right”, for French director François Truffaut’s observation that you simply cannot make a truly anti-war movie. Similarly, Warren might be critical of the sort of nerd who wanted the original bondage drawings, but his comic still caters to them.

I don’t feel the need for brain bleach after having read this, but I don’t think I will seek out more volumes from this series, which, by the way, is available from Dark Horse.

1: There’s one guy whose powers come with command menus in an unreadable alien language. Is he a supernerd? Has he ever consulted one? Has he ever methodically figured out what each of the commands does? No. He just clicks through menus and hopes for the best.




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