Once upon a time, there was a comic book artist named Adam Warren. Adam's thing was manga-style artwork -- in fact, he was drawing manga back when most comic artists were insisting it was just a fad and would never catch on. Adam was best known for writing and illustrating a couple of "Dirty Pair" books -- which are not what you think they are at all, but really about a couple of cute, scantily-clad girls who blew up stuff with very large guns. Okay, so maybe it was more or less what you thought it was.
Warren worked on lots of other comics, including some more manga series, plus "Gen13," "Livewires," and "Iron Man," but the big problem with working in comics is that you ain't likely to make much money. So Warren did what lots of other comics creators do -- made a little extra cash drawing commissioned artwork.
Sometimes, commissions are simple -- a picture of Batman or Spider-Man or Superman. Sometimes, they're more involved -- a picture of J. Jonah Jameson hugging a teddy bear, or all of the various Robins in a kickline, or She-Hulk wearing Wonder Woman's costume. And sometimes, the commissions are a bit more kinky.
A few years back, someone commissioned Warren to create some superhero bondage art. And when Warren finished, he'd put in a bit too much work on developing the character and her backstory to want to just toss her into the fetish trash heap.
So Warren adapted the commission into something else -- "Empowered," an ongoing "sexy superhero comedy" about a curvy, determined superheroine with a supersuit that fails her more often than not, leaving her frequently hogtied and humiliated, the laughingstock of the superhero community. And despite all that, she's still the most awesome, loveable, heroic character in the story.
The series' primary characters include:
- Empowered: Blonde, beautiful, and curvaceous, she should be on top of the world. But she's got extremely low self-esteem about herself, her body, and her status as a superhero. Her supersuit looks a lot like the black Spider-Man costume and gives her superstrength, durability, energy blasts, and more -- but when it gets torn, nearly all of those powers go splitsville, leaving her to get captured and tied up over and over and over. She still manages to score a number of incredibly awesome victories, but they're either low-key, little-noticed, or easily-forgotten.
- Thugboy: Emp's boyfriend, a former supervillain henchman. In fact, he and a bunch of his friends used to operate as the Witless Minions, specializing in stealing from supervillains and driving them into bankruptcy. He's Asian, buff, loves guns, hates "capes," and is utterly, madly in love with Emp.
- Ninjette: Emp's best friend and semi-roomie, a hard-drinking, terrifyingly competent ninja princess. She's on the run from her family, who want her to stay at home and pop out babies -- and they're willing to have her arms and legs cut off to keep her from running away. Ninjette is a master of disguise, does her best to train Emp to be a better superhero, and wears short-shorts with her name written on the butt.
- The Caged Demonwolf: Interdimensional conqueror, who Emp managed to trap inside a piece of alien power-draining bondage gear. Now content to sit on Emp's coffee table, watch TV, snoop into his housemates' private lives (and beg to get to watch Emp and Thugboy's "filthy animal coupling"), and bellow alliteratively. He likes to refer to himself as "The Blazing Devilgoat," "The Immortal Starspawn," "The Fusion-Phallused Violator of Worlds," "The Advice-Administering Autarch," and another dozen or two titles.
- The Superhomeys: The world's premier superteam, or at least the world's premier immature clique of superpowered creeps. Members include the leader, Capitan (not Captain) Rivet; the sleazy Major Havoc; the diminuitive dWarf; Protean, a bipedal glob of goo; Syndablokk, a guy with cinderblocks in place of his head and hands; and Sistah Spooky, blonde-hating sorceress and Emp's most persistent enemy. Emp is an associate member of the Superhomeys, and she gets almost no respect from them.
- Willy Pete: The most terrifying villain in the series, Willy Pete takes his name from military jargon for white phosphorus. He's a bearded, drawling fire elemental who just wants some love -- specifically, he wants to skullfuck people 'til their heads burn off. He's responsible for the deaths of all of the Witless Minions but Thugboy, who suffers frequent nightmares of the day Willy Pete finally catches up to him.
Mix all this together, and you get everything from high comedy to wrenching drama and everything in between. Emp gets humiliated and scorned by heroes and villains alike, Thugboy waxes enthusiastically poetic about his love for Emp's booty, Ninjette swills down liquor and engages in feats of casual ninja awesomeness, and the Caged Demonwolf rants entertainingly. So far, everything turns out for the best, except for the times when it doesn't.
The comics are released almost exclusively in lengthy digest volumes and are almost entirely in black and white. In fact, they aren't inked at all or even toned with greyscale sheets, as is common in manga. It's all greyscale reproductions of Warren's pencilled artwork. For a project where everything is the product of one guy, it's an amazingly detailed and rich comic -- there's no inker or colorist who fills in the fiddly bits that the penciller left out. For the most part, Warren doesn't make those sorts of errors.
Yes, it's immature. Yes, it's objectifying. Yes, it's fan service. There's partial nudity galore and frequent softcore sex. And it still has a lot more female readers than you'd think, and a reputation as a fairly feminist comic. Why? A lot of it is because Emp is so well-written and characterized. She isn't just cheesecake -- she has a real personality, hopes, fears, quirks, likes, and dislikes. She's engaging and charismatic, and you want to like her so, so much.
On top of that, Emp is also the best superhero in the series. Sure, others are better at the job of fighting crime, but Emp is the most dedicated to being a hero. With her flaky, near-useless powers, no one would blame her if she just gave it up and got a job doing data entry somewhere. But she sticks it out because she's dedicated to saving people, stopping criminals, and making the world a better place. As she says more than once, being a superhero isn't what she wants to do, it's what she was born to do.
And her hardships make her a better thinker than other heroes, too -- since her powers often quit working, she has to get by on brainpower, which means she's the hero who figures out the villain's weakness, who knows the best way to hit a villain with a car, who knows how to recognize an aneurysm with her X-ray vision. And the smarter superheroes she meets are starting to figure out how good she is.
Emp isn't just a hot body squeezed into a skintight supersuit, even if that's what gets lovingly drawn for laffs in the comic -- Warren has also created a complete character whose growth as a hero has made her one of the most empowered characters, male or female, in the comic.