This is Doctor Xaos Comics Madness post #100! After this one, WINTER BREAK BEGINS – the next real post will arrive January 3, 2016. Stay tuned, though, for some announcements during the interim.
You might get the idea that I think it was mostly all said and done during the 70s, that “you kids just don’t get it,” and that the superhero thing is simply over. However, even now my grumpy old ass is warmed and made as new in the beaming light of the true superhero ideal, couched in wickedly accurate play-up, even send-up, of the idiom, ourselves, and our society, but also aglow with effort, adversity, doubt, and drama, plus much gaudy ass-kicking. Yes, right now, someone is doing it right, and his name is Adam Warren.
Well … OK, Empowered is a nigh-unconscionable bondage joke, or at least it started that way. It’s riddled with cliches, puns, tastelessness, complete stereotypes, crazy nonsense, and worst of all, blatant D&D references in front of God and everyone. Its level of parody makes Mad Magazine look tame and fuzzy. It’s got manga-style art (yes, I hear you all go feh huck ptooey, but that’s what the manga guys say about your spandexers, so it’s even). It includes naughty acts and is full of naughty words, although wait, little black boxes protect our eyes, so that’s OK. See? See? Something tells me you don’t believe me. Umm, then …?
Look: it makes the 1980s black Spider-Man costume into something cool and actually plot-interesting. Once you process that, then when I say that the heroine’s familiarity with ball gags, her sensitivity about how [not sayin’ that word] her ass is, the various plot-relevant details about how visible her pubic hair is through her costume (solution swiftly discovered), and the whole complete obviousness that her costume is delicate due to her lack of confidence and not the other way around – and when I claim that none of those marginalize her, there is the tiniest smidgeon of the chance that you might believe me.
The thing is, nothing can really describe Empowered on paper, exactly like, say, the Silver Surfer or Marshal Law, who are equally absurd and easily-misunderstood. And I choose those examples wisely, because it’s exactly their sort of naive, idealistic, and stomperiffic superheroism of which I speak. When you turn the context and the details up to the ridiculous, you either get something flatly stupid, or you get something numinous.
There exists on this earth not one comics fan who doesn’t say, “You have to read it from the beginning,” and I am no different from the rest. But if I had, had to say, “I get it, you don’t trust me, you just want to read a little to see if it’s any good,” then the only way to go is Vol. 4 of the collections. The premise moves from rude little joke into real characterization and plot very quickly from the start, but here’s where the supporting cast becomes both more numerous and more complex, and I get the idea, when Warren discovered that his plot-producing content was rampaging unchained and he’d better start drawing like a maniac to keep up.
That volume also brings the wide range of fascinating female characters into view, such that the plot is really best understood as the collision of multiple, varying attempts by women to cope with the expectations of others and of themselves. Emp herself of course, along with Ninjette, Mindfxxk, and even the ones who begin as completely horrid little bad words, especially Sistah Spooky, become riveting, so I hardly knew, as I went along, which one I wanted to see knee-strike or zap the events-in-progress next. The work is so good at this that I want to see whole stories about otherwise minor characters like Jugganaut and Hagfish.
Gender identity is not
spared stinted either, not limited to but ably led by my and many others’ personal favorite, the Maidman, who shamelessly manages to plunder both Batman and his most effective parody, the Roach, yet somehow to make each of them more awesome thereby. Frilly. Lace. Panties. Hsssss.
Hapless defeated goon: And what’s with all the fxxking panty-flashing?! Would it fxxcking kill him to wear some fxxking bicycle shorts under that fxxking skirt?!
None other than the Maidman knew from the moment he saw her that she was the real hero in the bunch. It’s not like the book is unclear about the primacy of Emp’s genuine heroism. Thugboy and Ninjette are under no illusions that they’re the ones who need her, not the other way around, and even Sistah Spooky acknowledged, at last, that she hated Emp for being the real deal. The Demonwolf, Darkling Demiurge, Violator of Worlds, and many other titles besides, now most ignominiously trapped upon the alpha wench’s coffee table in the grip of alien bondage gear (although perhaps not completely discontent to mainline The Sopranos, The Wire, et al., plus watch Ninjette do unmentionables), is happy to explain should you need it.
Listen closely, loadbearing jackanapes! An opportunity most pleasingly prurient yawns widely open before us, if you will but seize it! The spacefaring satyr entreats you to dig into the ninja wench’s paraphernalia … … and unearth any underwear sexy she might be hiding! Mayhap she might even besport the fabled “thong thong thong thong thong” of which your urban bards once sang lo these many years ago! For indeed, this kingdom languishes lamentably, even tragically thong-free … … due to the prudish alpha wench’s accursed host of gluteal insecurities!
Not that explanation, Darkling Demiurge!! (flip flip)
The Demonwolf: Enough of your lachrymose lamentations, sniveling wench! SILENCE! You will listen, and you will learn as the omniscient overlord conveys his boundless wisdom unto you! Lo, these many moons ago, did the scourge of the spaceways not possess a human host and tread your pathetic world unfettered, like an infernal titan? Indeed he did! And did he not face your vaunted Superhomeys teammates in battle? And did not the ravening shadowlord not kick their supposedly HEROIC heinies? The mystic wench did cry out for her mommy in a manner most amusingly pathetic, and the mighty Major [Havoc] did sorely befoul his brightly-colored breeches … with numbers one AND two! Even the formidable Capitan [Rivet] did crumple, in the manner of a can fashioned from the flimsiest of aluminum! But as the other so-called “heroes” lay mewling and sobbing and urinating upon themselves like unto diaper babies … who did rise up and strike down the violator of worlds? WHO?
Emp: Um … I did?
The Demonwolf: Do you think yourself SOCRATES, wench? Answer not the immortal demongoat’s question with another question!
Emp: Okay. Fine. I’m the one who, uh, struck you down …!
The Demonwolf: INDEED.
Yes. Like that.
But … it’s porn, right? Nope. Not like Cherry Poptart, and not even like Omaha the Cat Dancer, which are respectively porn-on-a-platter and plot-with-unabashed-porn. It amuses me to imagine this or that spankywank person eagerly stripping off the misleading shrink-wrap to encounter far less than expected. Not only do helpful word balloons and panel borders and whatnot intercede – although in such a funny way that you totally imagine what they hide, naughty people – but the general effect is always to develop or resolve a real plot-type emotional situation. In porn, you watch people having sex. In Empowered, you see, or kinda not-really see sex because they’re people.
What it is, is a romance title. Thugboy and Emp have possibly the single most functional and heartwarming relationship in comics history, in part due to it not being over-idealized (I mean aside from the genre-specific physiques & all). The realities of their respective insecurities, secrets, and doubts, and also the fortunately not overdone tension of some attraction between your boyfriend and your BFF do infringe. But these very realistic, understandable things which make the relationship not TV-perfect also make it absolutely wonderful, in that they love one another wholeheartedly, want more than anything to be together, and don’t fuck it up. There is no idiot ball in this house.
That said, and disturbingly in its light, the title also does not stint on the genuinely grim, which is not only often gross, but also often heart-breaking and rooted in human evil to an extent I don’t see much in comics: why Mindfxxk cannot speak or see, why Thugboy has nightmares, Emp’s last memories of her dad, what Ninjette’s clan has waiting for her, even something as simple as why Anglerfish has returned, it all actually goes one layer deeper than it has to to be “serious.” One might even say this is where the book goes too far, in shifting from dramatic/humorous superhero beatdowns to Willy Pete describing his victims tearing their vocal cords as they scream when he NOT EVEN GONNA TELL YOU. The human pain is both physically and emotionally over the line, outdoing both Marshal Law and Sleeper, for example, by a full length – the net effect is to lend a certain edge to the hijinks, such that when Emp goes into action vs. some mutant trilobite or whatever, it’s not just funsies.
You know I’m in heaven when the book is simply crawling with villains, of all sorts. In terms of bad people, Fleshmaster (in a completely villainous way), Sistah Spooky (in a sad and painful way), and Ninjette’s dad (in a my God kill him kill him with fire way) probably do the worst things to others, at a human level. The actual named supervillains are mostly not very impressive, being idiots, goons, hipsters, or some combination thereof, but they’re wonderful in the sincerity of their personal schticks (I was sad to get so little of Katastrophe, myself, and who can but boggle at Eel Duce), in this, being less parodies of most Marvel and DC villains than simply their logical next step. The really big baddie is probably supposed to be Willy Pete, but I think he’s all atrocity and no Pie, myself.
The key is that it’s blessed with real villains too, unabashed in their costumed trappings and full of verve to transcend them. Readers of the book will not be surprised to see me not even bother to wipe tears of joy away concerning the interesting, unpredictable, and too-bent-for-sympathy yet to-be-respected Manny (world’s littlest supervillain! awww!), Deathmonger (who clearly knows exactly what “DM” stands for), and Oyuki-chan (whose dialogue would be easier to read if the non-profanity were the redacted part).
Not convinced? Then respect this! At long last, none other than Empowered has provided a viable explanation for how come we comics readers have to put up with all the freaking Mind Control Incidents:
DID YOU SEE THE HEADER? It’s winter break, jackanapes! Announcements momentous there will arrive on the days usual of Sun and Thurs, so that live the things will be kept, but you may as well attend to your filthy animal coupling, as further comics posting shall not be, until January 3, 2016. Seriously, though, don’t stay away, there are some neat vacation-y things coming.