Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Empowered: Just when I think I'm out...

Links: James Jean's replacement for cover art on Fables has been named, and it's a guy named Joao Ruas.  Never heard of him, but the two covers shown in this article look nice.  We'll see how he does; he's got some big shoes to fill.  Also, he's coming on just as the series is doing a crossover between the main book, Jack of Fables, and a limited series called The Literals.  I don't know if it's that good of an idea to do that sort of crossover with the series (especially if parts of the story will take place in a limited series; what's the point of that?), but we'll see how it goes.

Also, Kyle Baker's "review" of Frank Miller's Spirit movie is pretty hilarious.

Finally, I dug these images of world leaders as portrayed in the manga series The Legend of Koizumi, in which geopolitical decisions are based on the outcome of mahjong matches.

Empowered, volume 4
By Adam Warren

About one fourth of the way into this latest volume of Adam Warren's "sexy superhero comedy", I was about ready to check out and give up on the series.  After the exciting conclusion to the last volume, Warren apparently sees fit to spend some time allowing the characters to calm down and reflect on the situation, which leads to a seemingly endless chapter of whininess and sex talk (Ninjette is too scared to be by herself, so she sleeps in bed with Emp and Thugboy, prompting plenty of commentary from the Caged Demonwolf).  Looking back at those pages, it's really not that bad, but it was really tiresome when I first read it.  I've enjoyed the frank discussions of sex that Warren has inserted into the series, but this stuff seemed to tip over the line into gratuitous tittilation without enough humor to redeem it.

Luckily, Warren quickly turns things around, starting a volume-long plot about Emp being nominated for a "Capey" award for Suprahuman Most Deserving of Wider Recognition.  But while she is initially really excited, she is informed that the nomination was probably done in jest, with the intent to mock her when she goes on stage to accept the award (if she wins).  So it's another example of the constant battle for self-esteem that is one of the main themes of the series.  But while Warren seems to enjoy heaping misery on his characters, he does so with purpose, developing characters and fleshing out their personalities.  He even manages to humanize Sistah Spooky, Emp's main antagonist, by showing how wracked with insecurity she is even though she's such a good superhero.

While the award plot is the main undercurrent of the book, plenty of other enjoyable events occur, including the introduction of Maid-Man, a superhero so assured in his sexuality that he wears a frilly French Maid outfit, complete with stockings, garters, and high heels.  There's also a sick young boy who Emp agrees to help as part of the "Grant-A-Wish" program, and it turns out he's an aspiring supervillain whose greatest desire is to tie her up.  But at the same time, he probably treats her more respectfully than anybody outside of her boyfriend and best pal.  It's an interesting wrinkle, and it leads into surprising directions, especially when Warren introduces some of his signature crazy sci-fi ideas, like a disease called Mayfly that destroys the brain with cancerous tumors but has a chance to grant amazing intelligence to those it strikes, or a superhero hospital that traffics in giant cloned alien organs.

And it's all leading up to the awards ceremony, which turns out to be one of Warren's signature action setpieces.  He's been building Emp up over the course of the series, allowing her some actual victories amid the near-constant string of failures and humiliations.  Does he manage it here?  Well, read the book and see, but I'll just say that it ends up being a sweet climax, full of innovative uses of powers (such as Emp's suit's seemingly-useless invisibility that just makes its wearer appear naked) and dynamic action.  It's excellently done, and enough to make me excited for the next volume.

I haven't mentioned the artwork, but that's because it's as nice as always, filling each page with its expressive characters and fast-moving, yet easy-to-follow action.  It's a full package, even given the slow start to the volume.  I should have known better than to doubt Warren; he hasn't disappointed me yet.