Superheroines have historically gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to objectification. Brokenback pinup poses and damsels in distress still have an occasionally skincrawling popularity today. Adam Warren was once a desperate artist commissioned to draw these figures in mangastyle. The practice inspired him to create what would become Empowered Vol 1. Deluxe Edition, a “sexy superhero comedy” following the life of a bondageprone DList superheroine. Empowered nobly perseveres in her work despite near-constant humiliation. It is a fun deconstruction of the superhero genre, exploring the implications of exploitative sexism on the female psyche. Though there is still an abundance of fanservice, it is still legitimately funny, with sincere relationships, interesting characters, and emotional depth.
Elissa Megan Powers has dreamed of being a superhero ever since a childhood event left her fatherless. She received a suprahuman studies degree in college and acquired a super suit that only she can use. The problem is, Empowered’s suit only functions when it is intact. Much like her self esteem, the skintight material frequently shreds to pieces and rendering her physically helpless. Enemies usually capture and tie her up due to the unwritten rules of villain/hero interactions. Empowered has the reputation of being the worst superheroine ever, and is degraded by enemies and her asshole teammates, “The Superhomeys.” Nevertheless she continues to follow her dream by attempting heroics, and is sometimes able to singlehandedly save the day. She meets “a thug” whom she calls Thugboy, a former witless minion to villains and supervillains. He is surprisingly supportive, and becomes Empowered’s loving boyfriend. Ninjette, a Caucasian ninja princess from New Jersey, swings into their and becomes her best friend. Empowered is able to capture a longwinded eldritch demonlord in an alien bondage belt, and he becomes a new roommate. They face the perils of bad guys, social media, fetishizing entrepreneurs, and demons from their past.
Empowered is a cool take on the distressed superheroine, using her own point of view to show how sensitive and insecure even the most western feminine ideal can be. When the world is determined to reduce a woman into sex icon, it is brave to face the ridicule and keep doing the right thing. Her reactions to the unpleasantries strike true, but the strength of her character allows her to remain goodhearted and idealistic. The companionship Empowered finds in her lover and best friend is a sweet haven in the excesses of a superhero universe. Thugboy develops from appearing as a love interest side character into a complex hero of his own, struggling with PTSD and dark secrets. Ninjette’s alcoholism covers up the damage of being raised in an abusive, dystopian community. Heavy issues of trauma and darkness carry emotional weight when they are incorporated into the story, yet are still over the top enough to keep from overtaking the comedy. Enemies can be defeated by a fear of fabric stores, minions rip off their villain employers by stealing their stuff, and superhuman powers can be acquired by nonhuman STDs. The implications given in this volume about the nature of real supervillains Deathmonger and Wiley Pete, are horrifying, but are not dealt with in depth yet. Warren’s female narratives show the human side of sexual objectification, but because it started off as a joke about damsels in distress it must be admitted that the continuous depictions of bondage become tiresome. Thankfully the sex scenes between Empowered and Thugboy are affectionate and consensual, some heartwarming domestic lovemaking to counter the imposed objectification. Overall, the world of story and the characters are very likable, and the art style quite polished for an American manga-styled comic.