Just like you, I have spent my entire
lifetime treading water in an ocean of
lies. I am fucking sick and tired of it.
a look at Adam Warren’s Empowered
by Eric Oppen
Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
Like most people (male people in particular) I went through a stage in childhood of loving superhero comics. I liked Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and all the rest, and would have bought them all every month if I’d only had the pocket money to do so. I often thought that life would be better, or at least more interesting, if superheroes really existed.
These days, I’m not nearly so sure, particularly after coming across Adam Warren’s excellent series, Empowered. Empowered is set in a world where superheroes are commonplace enough to be just called “capes,” and, you know what? It isn’t a good place to be. “Capes” can do very much as they please, and non-“capes” have to just pretty much take it. Part of the background to the series is a previous rebellion against the metahumans, which ended badly. A major non-powered character used to make a career out of victimizing gullible supervillains, after serving in the rebellion. And hints are dropped of another rebellion against the superheroes brewing.
“Capes” themselves run the gamut, from highly-trained normal people (the rough equivalent of someone like Batman) on through creatures that were once human but are not any more, at least one who got her powers through a literal deal with (a) devil, to several victims of alien infections that left them with powers, to many who have unspecified origins. Some of them use their talents to try to fight crime and evildoing, others turn to crime for various reasons, and many of them just use their powers in their daily jobs.
The eponymous heroine of the series, Empowered (real name Elissa Morgan Powers, hence her supranym) is a plucky D-list superheroine battling for respect at least as much as against supervillains. Her powers come from a “supersuit” that gives her great strength, near-invulnerability, and the ability to throw bolts of energy at people, along with some minor powers such as super-vision. Unfortunately, not only is this suit extremely skin-tight and revealing, which Emp hates due to her (unwarranted) body issues, but she can’t wear anything over it or it won’t work—and it tears easily. After it’s torn beyond a certain point, its powers mostly stop, leaving poor Empowered very un-empowered, and vulnerable to attacks. A fact taken full advantage of by the villains, who delight in tying Empowered up, gagging her and taking her captive or leaving her for her teammates to find.
The “capes,” both the bad guys (“black capes”) and good guys (“white capes”) are, on, the whole, about what you’d expect if a random group of people were given superpowers and no real limits on their behavior other than peer pressure. While there are individuals who are nice, and treat non-superpowered people with respect, many of them are raging assholes of one sort or another. Empowered herself comments on this at various times in the book, breaking the fourth wall to address the reader directly. She points out in one of these that a common superhero tactic, car-throwing, not only destroys some poor family’s vehicle, but isn’t nearly as efficient as using individual parts of the vehicle as weapons.
While the “capes” battle each other heedless of the side-effects of their fighting on the people around them, they are not much nicer to their friends. Empowered, with her reputation for being a “bondage magnet” and frequent captive, gets almost no respect from anyone. Her teammates, the “Superhomeys,” almost all treat her with disdain, and since her triumphs are mostly un-witnessed, their attitude is honestly understandable. She does get captured and tied up on a regular basis; she is heavily dependent on a super-suit that isn’t reliable (to put it mildly), and she does (more at first than later, as she gets the hang of her super-suit’s capabilities and learns to improvise her way out of trouble) require frequent rescuing.
Despite the contempt of her colleagues, and the frequent trauma of capture, Emp soldiers on. At one point, laying a well-deserved beatdown on a renegade teammate, she yells: “I don’t do this stupid job because I want to be liked or accepted or whatever—although that would be f*cking nice! I do this stupid job because I’m driven to do it! I do this stupid, stupid job because This! Is! What! I! Am!” Ever since her father died in front of her face, Empowered wanted to be a superheroine so she could save people, and that keeps her going through more than enough bad treatment to disgust almost anybody else.
Life’s not unremittingly bleak for Empowered, though. She has a very happy relationship with a non-super guy whom we know as “Thugboy.” He started out as part of a gang of criminals who captured Emp, but fell in love with her, and after a period where he was trying to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds, left his old associates and moved in with Emp. Their relationship is one that many people would envy, featuring frequent passionate sex (the comic is rated somewhere around “hard R;” genitalia, nipples and penetration are never seen, but other than that little is hidden) and fierce commitment to each other. When some of Thugboy’s old colleagues, having figured out his double-game, have him at gunpoint and ask him what he thinks of that, he says he’s ready to die: “Can any of you say that you had sex this morning with a blonde goddess?” After he’s gone on for a while, rhapsodizing about how wonderful life with Emp is, and how he’s ready to die because living with Emp’s been worth it, Emp herself kicks down the door and proceeds to lay down a brutal beatdown on everybody but Thugboy, before throwing herself on him and yelling about how stupid he is.
Emp’s also got a very close girlfriend, a runaway ninja named Kozue Kaburagi, who goes by the nom-de-guerre “Ninjette.” Ninjette has her own set of issues: her father was an abusive alcoholic, she had no real friends while growing up (in a hidden ninja settlement in New Jersey, of all places) and after running away (leaving her old home in flames), she has a price on her head from her former clan. She has a drinking problem of her own, and is afraid to have a relationship because men have had bad luck with her. The first man she ever slept with was gruesomely killed by her father, who was furious because he had planned to offer his daughter to the head of an allied ninja clan as a virginal, fourteen-year-old bride. She is also far more ruthless than Emp is, which is only natural; while she’s likeable, funny, and a party animal, she’s also a highly-trained killer with no inhibitions about using her skills if sufficiently provoked.
Emp is the first friend she ever really had, despite their having met when Ninjette had been contracted to capture Emp for some bad guys. When the bad guys didn’t show and didn’t answer Ninjette’s calls, she got disgusted and let Emp go. They started talking, one thing led to another, and they came reeling back to Emp’s apartment in an alcoholic haze. After Emp rescued Ninjette from some mercenary ninjas who were planning to return her to her home sans hands and feet, they decided it was safer for Ninjette to live with Emp and Thugboy. Since Ninjette finds Thugboy hugely attractive, she isn’t sure about this, but so far nothing has happened.
The last member of their household is the most unusual. An interstellar being of enormous power, he is imprisoned in a high-tech bondage device that was originally used on Emp. His usual name for himself is “The Caged Demonwolf,” and he speaks in such a sespiquedalian manner that he’s sometimes very hard to follow. He serves as a Greek chorus to the goings-on, and has a particular soft spot for Ninjette. Despite being of an utterly alien species, he’s clearly very attracted to her, and has given her some very touching comments on her tales of her unpleasant past.
This series would be of interest to anybody with a liking for superhero stories, sexy art (Warren’s men and women alike are very easy on the eyes) manga, or a different look at a common trope in Western culture.
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