Empowered Rocks!

Empowered is captured by Imperial Pimpotron Alpha and placed in power-draining alien bondage gear. You see the power-draining alien bondage gear a lot after this story ... but not on Empowered. Images from Volume 1.

Copyright 2008 by Pat Powers

Short Review:

The thing about Empowered that puts is far above any ordinary bondage-licious comic is -- it's funny. Not just "funny for a bondage comic" funny, but funny, period. So funny that a lot of people who don't care at all for bondage enjoy Empowered, primarily for its sly riffs on superhero comics. And of course those who enjoy bondage will enjoy the living hell out of Empowered. If you are a bondage fan, you must go out and buy Volume 4, and all three volumes that precede it, for your own mental health, because you're going to kick yourself for a very long time someday when you discover what you were missing. Even if you're not a bondage fan, you'll regret missing out on Empowered. You can order volumes of Empowered right here.

Long Review:

I'm going to be reviewing Empowered Volume 4 in this article, but before I do so I need to give you some background because I somehow haven't bothered to review Empowered Volumes 1-3, other than to say they're great. And they ARE great, one of those rare bondage-friendly works that is better than anything I could have conceived of, and which has been accepted by the mainstream. So mostly this review will be about all four volumes.

Empowered was created by Adam Warren, a professional comic artist and writer who has had plenty of mainstream professional gigs but has also done other work as well, as you'll see later.

Empowered is the story of a gorgeous young blond superheroine named Empowered with severe self-esteem and body image issues who has super powers thanks to a molecule-thick, skintight supersuit that gives her super-strength, invulnerability and the ability to hurl energy balls. The suit also can turn Empowered invisible.

Unfortunately, the suit can be very unreliable, for example, sometimes the suit turns invisible but Empowered does not, leaving her stark naked, since the suit does not work as well if there is anything between it and Empowered's skin, so she must go commando underneath the suit.

Also the energy balls are problematical -- sometimes they are ravening spheres of destruction that demolish their target, sometimes they are mere puffs that wouldn't hurt a fly and often they just plain old miss.

But what makes Empowered the very special superheroine that she is, is that her suit loses its power when it's damaged, and it is damaged quite easily, for a supersuit. For example, bullets, while not harming Empowered, can tear her suit. And as her suit becomes increasingly torn up in the course of a fight, she loses her powers. Most noticeably, she loses her superstrength, often to the point where her suit is mostly gone and she's mostly naked and no stronger than your average healthy female twentysomething. After that it is very easy for villains to overpower the underpowered Empowered, which they frequently do, generally followed by tying her up and gagging her, after which her mostly naked, bound and gagged self has to be ransomed or rescued by her fellow superheroes. This happens so frequently that she becomes famous for being captured by bad guys, causing her to be the butt of many jokes.

Empowered ... apparently, was once overpowered by a gang of kindergartners. THAT would have made a good story. From Volume 3.

And Empowered's half-naked damsel in distress proneness is also the cause of many bondagelicious images of Empowered. I mean, if you like images of really bodacious hotties bound and gagged, you are going to like Empowered Volumes 1-4 very, very, very much.

In getting tied up so often, Empowered is remaining true to its origins. It all started, as so many things seem to, with poverty and desperation. Warren, an artist who has worked on a number of more mainstream comics -- most notably Dirty Pair and Gen 13, was between gigs, attending comic cons and doing commissioned drawings for whomever had a sheckel or three to throw his way. (Warren might have attended Dragoncon < Full Jack Kirby mode >: HAD I BUT KNOWN!!!)

Warren noticed that a large number of commissions were to do superheroines in damsel in distress situations -- i.e., in bondage.

Warren started doing pencil studies of a generic superheroine in bondage in anticipation of a ready market for them at comic cons. After a time, the generic superheroine in distress morphed into a character, with a backstory to explain her frequent turns as a bondagette. Thus Empowered was born.

Warren sold the concept to Dark Horse, they bought it, and the result is a series of four trade paperbacks about Empowered, with at least one more scheduled.

(I have read that the series is planned for five volumes -- I hope not, having a greedy desire to have many more volumes than that to enjoy. Also, I think this is a potential franchise for Warren and Dark Horse -- so far as I know, sales of Empowered are not flagging at all. Why stop when everyone wants to give you more money?)

Empowered recalls some of her DiD experiences. Notice she's gagged in every one of them. From Volume 4.

There's no evidence that Warren himself is into da bondage, but he deals with it in his stories with an innate intelligence that puts him far above most non-bondage types who have dealt with bondage themes. Of course, it might not be all that much a matter of intelligence. Almost all the bondage scenes in Empowered have Empowered gagged -- something that almost never occurs to mainstream folk to do, but is generally of great interest to bondage fans. I suspect that's because when Warren was doing commissioned superheroine DiD images, his customers almost invariably wanted the superheroine to be gagged. Warren, being a smart guy, noticed that. But there are better indications of Warren's intelligence in the series.

Text on left reads: (Ideaman): "PSST! Hey, just look at me, huh? Barking orders to my minions, with a beautiful blonde slung over my shoulder!" Empowered's expressions provide commentary in the next panel.

Image from Volume 2.

Although Empowered spends a lot time bound and gagged, she is by no means just a bit of nice scenery at such times. Unlike a whole raft of frikkin' idiot filmmakers, Warren has the good sense to make Empowered an active participant in her very frequent gagged scenes by showing her thoughts, which sometimes take the form of commentaries on her situation, her captors, etc. but can also be personal musings. Sometimes her participation comes in the form of an expression that really sets off a scene. Empowered's thoughts and expressions provide a nice counterpoint to whatever lunacy the supervillains and superheroes around her are spouting, who for the most part are a bunch of loons.

A wannabe supervillain has gagged and bound Empowered and stripped her of her supersuit so he could wear it himself. The molecule thick, skintight suit clung to his chubby male figure, just like it clings to Empowered's bodacious figure ... but to a very different effect. Image from Volume 1.

The interesting thing is that despite all the sex and bondage, which tends to squick mainstream types big time, Empowered has been received well by mainstream comic reviewers and fans. I suspect that is because Warren gets his comic material from a lot of sources, not just bondage. One of the most productive for him is the contrast between ordinary human personalities and conduct and the weird world of comic book superheroes and villains.

Empowered's SuperHomie teammates, for example, are a bunch of dicks (even the superheroines) constantly humiliating Empowered, even though she's new to the team and to superheroism. For example, when she's knocked unconscious during a group battle and a news camera catches a shot of her muzzily awakening with drool all over her chin, the SuperHomies make the image the desktop on the giant computer screen they get trouble alerts on.

Sistah Spooky's constant malice haunts Empowered as little spiders convey bad thoughts.
I especially like the one about her sophomore year. From Volume 2.

One member of the SuperHomies is especially prone to treat Empowered badly -- Sistah Spooky, a powerful witch with a brownish complexion who sold her soul to the devil in exchange for great beauty and minor witchy powers, but the devil's agent moved the decimal point over a couple of places in the wrong direction on the "witchy powers" form and turned Sistah Spooky into a super mega witch. Unfortunately for Empowered, Sistah Spooky endured ill treatment at the hands of attractive blond mean girls in high school, and now has it in for attractive blondes like Empowered -- who is not mean at all, but a real sweetheart, but Sistah Spooky still hates her.

Empowered also has body image issues. She feels her butt is too big, though it is clearly just right from the straight male point of view. As you might imagine, running around pretty much naked because of the supersuit, and often winding up really naked during battles with supervillains because of the supersuit's flimsiness, is quite stressful for someone with body image issues. (There's a running joke in which the author promises to explain why molecule-thick, clingy supersuit doesn't show Empowered's cameltoe "in the next issue" which of course never occurs).

A person who is as emotionally needy as Empowered being repeatedly subjected to all this humiliation -- hell, ANYONE repeatedly subject to such experiences -- is going to take quite the psychological beating, and Empowered does. Fortunately, she has reserves of personal strength that she doesn't realize she has, and she has a group of friends who give her emotional support.

Thugboy and Empowered enjoy a little post-coital food preparation. Nice build on Thugboy -- it's like Warren knows about yaoi. Did I mention that the supersuit also makes Empowered incredibly horny and can also be used as a condom? Image from Volume 1.

First and foremost among them is Thugboy, a former supervillain minion for hire. His gang captured Empowered and while he was tying her up he was very nice and considerate. Something clicked between them, and pretty soon they were seriously having sex with one another, and also loving one another, but not in a sexual bondage-y way, probably because all the experiences Empowered has had being a real life damsel in distress has left her with absolutely no interest in being tied up between the sheets.

(Or has it? Warren has a way of hinting at deeper psychological depths behind what's going on at the surface of his character's personalities and relationships, and it's not inconceivable that one of them might be an unrecognized taste for bondage on Empowered's part.)

In addition to being Empowered's designated stud, Thugboy is a well-developed character with an interesting past: he's a former member of the Witless Minions, a gang of supervillain henchmen for hire whose real purpose was to financially rip off the supervillains that hired them, selling off their supervillain gear and then claiming it was destroyed by superheroes. Thugboy has secrets in his past and is particularly haunted by fears of a powerful and vengeful supervillain enemy he made as a Witless Minion.

Ninjette meets Empowered, who of course gets bound, gagged and chained in the course of meeting.
It's a real "meet cute." Image from Volume 1.

Empowered's best friends is Ninjette, a ninja-for-hire who was hired to kidnap Empowered by some gang or other. Ninjette easily captures, ties up and gags Empowered, but when the gang doesn't bother to show up to pick Empowered up (and pay Ninjette off) Ninjette says "fuck it" and frees Empowered, and the two of them go out drinking together, becoming fast friends in the process.

Ninjette has a scary past too, and lives in fear of her own family, a New Jersey ninja clan. And she and Thugboy seem to have a certain amount of sexual tension going between them that the oblivious Empowered has completely missed.

Finally, there is my favorite character in the series (other than Empowered) the Caged Demonwolf, an alien starspawn that was kicking the living hell out of the SuperHomie team until Empowered traps it within a power-draining bondage device that had first been used on Empowered by an alien seeking Empowered for a galactic overlord's harem (see illustration that opens this review). The SuperHomies, very typically for them, ignore Empowered's achievement in saving them from the Caged Demonwolf (except for Captain Rivet, the putative leader of the team who is slightly less of a dick than the others although certainly not without fault).

Classic purple prose from the Caged Demonwolf as he makes a case for a lesbian relationship between Ninjette and Empowered.

Image from Volume 4.

The Caged Demonwolf is pretty much helpless -- he resides inside an alein bondage belt on Empowered's coffee table -- but he can talk, and he talks in demonic purple prose that's an inspired riff on Jack Kirby (a famous comics writer noted for his purple prose) at his purplest. Confined to the coffee table, the Caged Demonwolf spends most of his time watching TV and listening to CDs. Since he's often nattering about fairly mundane things the results tend to be freakin' hilarious.

The literally impotent Demonwolf is prone to lurid fantasies about Empowered and Ninjette, and also vicariously enjoys Empowered's noisy and frequent sexual sessions with Thugboy, as well as lusting after Ninjette's booty, and encouraging her to do various perverted things, all in Jack Kirby's purple prose. It's freakin' hilarious.

Warren knows that many fans of Empowered are into the bondage aspects of the series and plays with this phenomenon often, particularly in the "meta" chapter breaks in which Empowered directly addresses the audience. (Warren is careful to keep the "meta" out of the stories themselves, however.) This creates plenty of opportunity for humor as well as some character-building. For example, there's the chapter break where Empowered is dismayed to discover her origin as part of a line of drawn-to-order superheroines in bondage. Or her understandable fear when she discovered that in previous works by Warren, not all of his lead characters survived the series. Or her attempts to convince readers that some of the more embarrassing statements she made in a story were not in fact attributable to her (which I didn't buy for a minute).

The Chloroformaster strikes! Only Warren would have the balls to play with this very obscure fetish in Empowered.

Image from Volume 3.

Warren also plays with his audience's freaky proclivities within the stories themselves, though not in a "meta" way. One story deals with "The Chloroformaster" a supervillain who likes to chloroform female capes (the slang term for superheroes) and then engage in solitary sex while watching them sleep. I don't think most mainstream comic writers would even know that such a fetish exists.

That covers Volumes 1-3: funny funny funny, bondage of half-naked or naked variety, sly parody of silly memes from the world of superhero comics, well-developed characters, interesting stories and good fun.

Volume 4 of Empowered expands some of the themes developed earlier, and further develops the characters. Ninjette has lost faith in herself because of the ease with which members of the Kobayaki clan (second-class ninjas compared to Ninjette's own clan, we are given to believe) were able to capture, bind and gag her.

It's an interesting reaction Ninjette has had, considering that Empowered has gone through the same thing at the hands of innumerable villains and, while finding the experience discouraging and distressing each time, has never experienced anything like the total emotional meltdown Ninjette has -- well, not for more than a few hours at least. Generally Ninjette has been portrayed as the more capable, together person of the two, but Empowered seems to be tougher than Ninjette in some respects on this evidence.

Thugboy tries to help Ninjette regain her confidence (as does Empowered, when she's not away doing superheroine stuff) and in the process Thugboy and Ninjette's sexual tension develops into a distinctly guilty sexual attraction. I hope nothing further comes of it in Volume 5, as the old "betrayed by lover and best friend" theme has been done to death. I can see the dramatic possibilities, which is kinda the problem -- I can see them all too easily -- it's a very old theme, and what makes Empowered exciting and interesting to all its readers, whether Warren knows it or not, is that in doing a story about such a bondage-y heroine, Warren is treading on new ground.

(OK, Wonder Woman was also very, very bondage-prone, especially in her Golden Age incarnation, but there was never any admitted sexual aspect to her bondage-proneness: it was always a matter of capturing or being captured by the bad guys in the course of crimefighting, or of Amazons being made stronger by their bondage games, or of the prisoners on Transformation Island being morally improved by their chains and their submission.) Sexual bondage was never alluded to in any way whereas Warren engages in edgy play with dramatic damsel in distress/sexual bondage dichotomy almost constantly.

Frankly, Warren's playful approach to the bondage themes in his stories looks quite sophisticated compared to Marsden's earnest entreaties about the healthful, beneficial aspects of bondage.

When you read comics, don't just take the graphics as given. Think of them as storyboards for a movie. Here's a scene of Empowered being dragged along behind a jeep owned by a gang of witless minions, stripped naked, tied and gagged. (Of course, Empowered is generally HALF naked, or more accurately, 80 percent naked -- but you get the idea. Adds a lot of juice to these stories.

Image courtesy of sponsor Sex and Submission.

(And if you're ever in any doubt that Things Was Different Way Back Then, remember that Golden Age Wonder Woman was a comic marketed specifically to children, and ask yourself if anything like that could occur nowadays. Hint: short answer, No. Long answer, No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no.)

An amusing array of superheroes and supervillains is introduced in every volume of Empowered, and Volume 4 is no exception. We are introduced to the superhero Maidman, who dresses in a frilly French maid uniform, but is built like a bodybuilder and kicks ass and takes names very efficiently when it's clobberin' time.

Among the super villains there is Wet Blanket, whose power is to suppress the super powers of others. There's also Manny, a dying child with a very special Make A Wish Foundation-style wish that Sistah Spooky assigns to Empowered in her usual spiteful way. His wish is to play at being a supervillain and tie up a superheroine (which ends up being Empowered, natch). But it turns out to be part of a more involved plot on his part to survive and become an actual supervillain.

(And in this post, my mind seems to have run on a parallel track to Warren's -- note the date, well before the release of Empowered Volume 4.)

There's plenty of bondage in Volume 4, though not as much as in Volumes 1-3. I'm OK with that, so long as Warren doesn't blow the franchise farther down the road, as so many have, by refusing to dance with them what brung him to the dance. (The Gor novels, a franchise that started out as a mainstream/bondage phenomenon and then morphed into bondage-fests are now at 28 volumes and counting. I bet they wouldn't have lasted nearly as long as a generic fantasy series.)

However, I really am in no position to give Warren advice in this regard. One of the tricks I use in writing reviews is to think about how I would have made the work in question better. As most of my reviews of mainstream works dealing with bondage themes will attest, this is often ridiculously easy work for me (as it would be for anyone else who is stupid enough to waste their time trying it) generally because the work in question hasn't thought out the bondage themes at all or worked them at all well, often because the entire work is dog-stupid.

At one point, Empowered is forced to take a part-time job impersonating herself at malls and so forth, which provides for some intensely humiliating experiences and a little more edgy DiD/bondage play for Warren.

Image from Volume 1.

But even when the work is overall extremely well done, as in the Savage Sword of Conan comics, I can think of ways to improve the bondage themes, because my mind is just that perverted.

But I can't really think of any way to improve Empowered in terms of bondage or anything else. And that is the best recommendation I have ever made of any mainstream bondage work.

Well, OK ... ya dragged it out of me. There is ONE thing I could suggest. And it's not really a correction, more of a storyline I think could work out really well. As mentioned earlier in the article, the comics genre has ONE other superheroine who is noticeably bondage-prone. Wonder Woman. An encounter between Empowered and a female superheroine who is of course NOT Wonder Woman but resembles her in many respects, in fact most of them, especially bondage-proneness, holds all sorts of comic possibilities. That's all I'm saying.

You may think I have given away too much of the stories in Empowered in this review: fear not, I have only scratched the surface of the very deep well of funny goodness that is Empowered. So go, now, buy and read all four volumes of Empowered. They're even better than this review makes them sound.

(I am not getting any money from Warren or Dark Horse for writing this review. Although I really should, I really slavered all over Empowered. My only defense is that I've been telling the truth as I see it.)

We'll end on this nice bit of lesbian bondage imagery as a female villainess can't resist naked, bound Empowered. Then again, nobody can resist naked, bound Empowered.

Image from Volume 2.

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