"Empowered," Adam Warren's series of original graphic novels starring the awkwardly-named titular heroine, is a bit of an odd beast. Spinning out of a series of commissioned sketches featuring "damsels in distress," "Empowered" straddles the line between parodying cheesecake and celebrating it. Warren himself notes that the series is described as a "sexy superhero comedy," except when it's none of the above - for instance, in the conclusion to volume five, Emp's not-very-skillful superheroing leads to the grizzly death of several teammates at the hands of the pyrovillain Willy Pete, with fan-favorite heroine Mindf**k sacrificing herself to save Empowered.
But then, the fact that there's a character called Mindf**k (and that her name is self-consciously censored in the comic) should give an indication that things in Warren's Empverse are far from grim and gritty.
Add to all this the distinctive art style - tight pencils, no inks - and "Empowered" would seem to be unique in the proper sense of the word. CBR News spoke with Warren about "Empowered" volume 6, published by Dark Horse and in stores now.
CBR News: What had started as a "sexy superhero comedy" became something a bit different with the end of volume five. Was the evolution of "Empowered" inevitable, or was there a conscious choice to take it into more serious territory?
Adam Warren: The progression was probably inevitable, given my recurring tendency to send whimsical japery careening off into rather more somber directions. Then again, I've never felt that working on a humorous premise precludes the exploration of other, not-quite-as-guffaw-intensive themes. I'd like to think that, for example, my run on Wildstorm's "Gen13" featured some of both the funniest and the most emotional moments I've yet written. Now that I've mentioned it, though, you'll have to pardon me as I go pour a funereal forty over the figurative grave of the presently, if temporarily, deceased "Gen13." (Better that than actually drinking a forty, needless to say.)
Even with all the death, though, there's still a pretty strong degree of comedy and, of course, sexiness. How do you feel the various aspects of the series balance and amplify each other?
Yeah, I hasten to clarify that the tone of future" Empowered" volumes won't always be as grim and, uh, "death-y" as certain of the current plot threads might indicate. Nay, let me instead declare that hilarious hijinks, shenanigans and tomfoolery - and perhaps even monkeyshines - will soon be afoot as ne'er before, as befits a "sexy superhero comedy"! (Except, y'know, on the occasions when the series doesn't actually highlight sexiness, superheroes or comedy.)
That's probably the main thing I like about "Empowered's" premise - and, I suppose, by extension the superhero genre as a whole: the surprising degree of flexibility that writing an offbeat book about "capes" allows me, despite the superficially obvious limitations of the genre. If the series were solely a wacky superhero parody, or purely a romantic comedy, or always a grimly violent deathmarch, or (God forbid) consisted of nothing but "damsel in distress" riffs, I would've long ago abandoned the franchise out of sheer boredom. It definitely seems to me that these disparate tonal elements do work to reinforce each other, as long as all the various Thematic Food Groups that comprise your Nutritious "Empowered" Breakfast are represented in the long run. (Grievously tortured cereal-commercial metaphor, ahoy!)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the end of volume 5, "Empowered" volume 6 deals quite a bit with death, though not always in the direct, people-die-and-then-other-people-react-to-it-this-way fashion. How long have you had the "consequences of deals" aspect of death in mind for the Empverse?
I've had that particular plot element in mind for quite a while, possibly dating back to a proposed sequel to my ill-fated Marvel miniseries "Livewires." (Proposed and, needless to say, rejected. Ouch.) I thought the idea of superheroes with immortal superpowers but all-too-mortal bodies was pretty interesting to begin with; tying this concept into "Empowered's" existing riffs on figurative and literal deals with the devil seemed a natural progression.
Come to think of it, this isn't entirely unlike a concept from my long-ago DC one-shot, "Titans: Scissors, Paper, Stone," which featured a character - "Dead Prettyboy," whom I probably should've named "Pretty Deadboy" instead - who was likewise rendered "deceased-but-lively" by unearthly powers. Hmm.
Hmm. Was this part of the story in any ways a reaction to the big "living dead" events at Marvel and DC?
Not at all, really. In fact, I almost spiked vol. 6's entire "Superdead" plotline when I first heard about DC's "Blackest Night" event. After I learned more, though, I decided that the plotlines were different enough for me to proceed as planned; my story's not so much about superheroes who come back from the dead, but rather superheroes who discover that they can't die properly in the first place. Then again, I've never actually read "Blackest Night" (nor Marvel's recent "Necrosha" event, for that matter), so I might be completely mistaken in this assumption. Judge for yourself, better-read comics fans!
To meet your "Emp tied up" quota amidst all the destruction, there's a nice extended sequence of her giving tips on what to do when you're being abducted. How far is she, at this point, from applying this sort of knowledge to not getting tied up in the first place?
Well, she's arguably getting a bit closer to that happy day, as you'll notice that our heroine never actually gets, ah, "distressed" in real time during vol. 6. (Unless getting curbstomped by a dead giant's skull counts as getting distressed, which might well be the case.) In fact, all the book's imagery of Damsel-ishEmp consists of either flashbacks or older photos and videos, which brings up the in-world suggestion that her reputation as an oft-tied "supercaptive" is so pervasive that it will always obscure any positive feats she might accomplish. This also brings up the "meta-textual" suggestion that the somewhat gamy reputation of the book itself might likewise obscure its positive features. Oh, well.
We also get an origin (of sorts) for the costume. Is there more to this than what we're seeing now?
Oh, quite definitely. Emp's "origin," as depicted in the current volume, tends to raise more questions than it answers, doesn't it? Well, rest assured that more will be revealed about her supersuit's secrets in future installments. No, really! Just don't expect a full-on "big reveal" anytime soon, as the true nature of the mysterious "hypermembrane" is something I intend to parcel out over the entire course of the series.
Scheduling-wise, "Empowered" volume 6 came out a year and change after vol. 5. Will these be annual editions from here on out? Are you still planning to do "floppy" spinoffs to keep the excitement going between, as you'd mentioned in an earlier CBR interview?
Yeah, I'm afraid that the book's gonna have to come out on an annual basis for the time being, due to a number of unfortunate reasons. For one thing, I can't always work on "Empowered" full-time, since I have to take on other, better-paying jobs to allow me the luxury(!) of working on the book at all. Also, back in the early days of "Empowered," I had a large number of pages - almost two full volumes, at one point - completed way the hell ahead of deadline, giving us plenty of lead time to print multiple volumes within a short timeframe. Alas, that cushion has long since dwindled away to naught. Finally, the maddening vagaries of book-market ordering have played a role as well, since we've had to solicit books ever further and further in advance, which has led to increasingly dire scheduling problems for me.
To bridge the ever-widening gap between volumes, though, I do indeed intend to put out more "Empowered" "floppy" one-shots - and maybe even spinoffs, down the road. In truth, I'd probably be better off serializing the whole damn thing, whether via "floppies" or otherwise, since having the title off the shelves for such lengthening stretches of time probably isn't helping its popularity very much. Problem is, "Empowered"happens to be singularly ill-suited for serialization, since A) I often produce each volume's stories out of order, and B) I really, really enjoy the freedom of not being straitjacketed by the limitations of a fixed "22-page-per-issue" format. Oh, well.
In that interview for volume 5, you also talked quite a bit about not loving to draw at this point in your career. Could "Empowered" continue with another artist and you as the writer, or has its distinctive format pretty much cemented you in a do-it-yourself role?
As much as I'd love to pass the book's art chores over to another, preferably better artist, the rather less-than-ideal economics of the OGN model (Original Graphic Novel, for the uninitiated) make that possibility pretty damn remote. I just can't see subjecting anyone else to the especially long hours and low pay inherent to working on a high pagecount "straight-to-trade" project. Hell, I'm only able to draw the book because I use a technique - pencils only, on 8 ½" X 11" copy paper - that allows for fairly rapid production; if I had to do conventional (and conventionally sized) inked pages, the book would be absolutely nonviable.
On the other hand, I'm thinking that other artists might be able to handle the much smaller commitment - and better money - of working on a "floppy"-format comic, so I'm currently pitching Dark Horse on the idea of doing "Empowered" one-shots that would feature stories drawn by talented folks other than myself. (Written by me, I hasten to add, and bookended by roughly a dozen pages drawn by me as well.) Besides the thrills represented by not having to draw and telling other artists what to do, I'd particularly enjoy the prospect of noodling around with the Empverse's wide array of peripheral elements and characters, many of which have been tragically neglected as the volumes have become ever more dominated by single plotlines. Plus, hey, I wouldn't mind doing some "Empowered" stories that were weighted more towards straight-up "fun for fun's sake" and less towards the heaviness of the title's ongoing plot threads.
Looking ahead to volume 7, will Emp get her wish for less death-y stuff?
Well, yes and no. Actually, more "no" than "yes," since the next book's "action hook" will be a long, bloody, death-intensive martial arts brawl pitting a badly outnumbered Ninjette against the rest of the ninja clan that previously defeated her back in vol. 3. But, hey, the rest of the book will less death-obsessed, I think! (Maybe.)