We've been big fans of Adam Warren's sexy, funny, and often very poignant superhero series Empowered for a while now. It started almost as a joke - superheroine loses her powers when her costume gets ripped - and has grown into one of the most textured group of characters in comics, including an amazing supporting cast that's just as deep as the lead character. One of those characters, Ninjette - Empowered's best friend - takes center stage in Empowered Vol. 7, which hits from Dark Horse Comics this Wednesday. To find out more about this, the process, and where the series is going, we chatted with creator Adam Warren:
MTV Geek: Let’s talk about this volume of Empowered... Why turn the focus so squarely on Ninjette? What made it time for her turn in the spotlight?
Adam Warren: Well, Ninjette's essentially been a "co-lead character" of the series from the very start, so I had no compunctions about spending a fair chunk of an Empowered volume delineating her ever-intriguing character. In fact, I'd originally planned to devote even more of the volume to Ninjette, as her grueling struggle with the revenge-minded Ayakami ninja clan was initially slated to run for over 100 pages(!) of the book… For good or ill, though, other storytelling responsibilities trimmed down her storyline just a bit.
Geek: It feels like there’s a very slow evolution of the characters in the books, but Ninjette goes through a big one - and starts to force Emp through one too - can you talk about that a bit?
AW: That's definitely true to some degree, especially for Emp, who receives a mildly startling wake-up call about her nature as a superheroine by the end of the volume. Emp, Ninjette, and a handful of Empowered's other main characters are indeed changing and growing, though in a rather incremental fashion. I have to admit, however, that much of Empowered vol.7 dwells on figuring out what makes a few of the characters tick, rather than moving them forward—"evolving" them, if you will—all that quickly.
I'm not a big fan of Hollywood's ultra-simplistic version of the character arc, in which a protagonist is just barely sketched in and hastily established before being forced to rapidly, ahem, "develop" over the course of 90-odd minutes. This implies that we already learned everything we need to know about that undercooked character at the story's beginning—and now she's gotta change, pronto! I'm more interested in character delineation, figuring out motivations and flaws and secrets, than just frogmarching a protagonist through a speedy progression into greater and greater awesomeness. (Luckily for me, I have the luxury of hundreds—or thousands—of pages to establish and define my characters' personalities, as opposed to the brief running time of the average film.)
Geek: How about Ninjette’s relationship with Thugboy? Clearly, it would be very bad for everybody if that was reciprocated - or would it be so bad it’d be good???
AW: Pretty safe to say that any reciprocation of the potential attraction between Ninjette and Thugboy would be a very, very bad thing indeed, to the point of being utterly disastrous—which doesn't mean that such a catastrophic outcome might not actually happen, of course. *Strokes beard in malevolent manner*
Geek: Let’s talk about the time jump structure you employ in this volume - what led to that, and how difficult was it to organize? Or was it easy? I bet it was super easy.
AW: Well, I should clarify that Empowered vol. 7's primary plot thread depicts Ninjette's final, fatal reckoning with a dozen supernaturally durable warriors from a vengeful ninja clan, with whom she barely survived an earlier encounter. The problem: If I structured the book in strict chronological order, the entirety of Ninjette's ordeal with the Ayakami clan would've been stuck at the back of the volume—exactly as happened with her previous Ayakami ordeal, back in Empowered vol. 3! So, I decided that nope, strict chronological order wasn't an option this time around.
My thinking was: If I broke up the climax's 60-odd pages of ninja mayhem and scattered the scenes throughout the volume, these bursts of bloody, plot-twisty brutality (set in the present) would cast a shadow over the rest of the book's relatively light-hearted stories (set in the past). The feedback I've received from the first round of Empowered vol.7's readers indicates that my conniving scheme, here, seems to work exactly as I'd hoped, which pleases me greatly.
Assembling the final order of the book's pages was not unlike piecing together a jigsaw puzzle in comics form, but featuring 224 pages of "sexy superhero comedy" and "non-sexy non-superhero non-comedy, with plenty of ninja brutality" instead of puzzle pieces. In the end, I'm confident that the final result still reads pretty darn clearly, while simultaneously indulging my undying love of rather unusual story structure.
Geek: I’m gonna skirt spoilers here, but I thought the Ninjette/Caged Demonwolf scene was particularly hilarious, then heartbreaking... And also a little sexy, I guess. It was a lot of things, is my point. What can you tell us about this scene, and how you approached it? And why?
AW: I like every Empowered volume to have an emotional high point, and thought that hitting said high point in a scene involving the bombastic blowhardiness of the Caged Demonwolf would present an interesting narrative challenge. Plus, I was very eager to show a very different side of the Blazing-Eyed Devilgoat, who has admittedly been something of a one-note character during most of his appearances in the series.
I wanted this single story to cover a range of emotional tones in only a few pages, more or less as a microcosm for the tonal range of the entire volume. So, the storytelling's mood initially shifts from humor to horror, then jumps to a sense of both melancholy and beauty (I hope), before we go back to silliness and sexiness at the end. Come to think of it, all of those are tones I try to hit in the course of every Empowered volume; here, though, I tried to run through all of 'em in 14 pages. Wheeeee!
Geek: This is a larger question, but there’s a few small developments in this volume that seem to be leading to seismic shifts in this series; I’m looking in particular at Sistah Spooky - and even the rest of the Super Homeys - views on Emp. Where are we going with this?
AW: In the short term, where we're going with the Sistah Spooky plot thread is straight into Empowered vol.8, which is largely devoted to the resolution—nay, the spectacular resolution—of her increasingly tragic storyline. I spend a fair bit of vol.7 putting all the pieces on the board for Spooky's endgame, including a sense of her growing rapprochement with Emp, which—go figure!—becomes a critical plot point in the next book. And if you thought the Ninjette/ Demonwolf scene in the current volume was heartbreaking, just wait until you see the relentless assault of tearjerkery that vol. 8's finale will deliver… *makes mime-style "crying" gesture*
Geek: And is there an end game in mind? Or is Empowered open-ended at this point?
AW: Yes, I do indeed have an ending in mind for the series, but I'm hopeful that said ending won't be taking place for quite a few years yet. (For the record, we haven't even reached the end of the first long-term story arc in my master plan for Empowered.) To answer your second question, I suppose you could say that Empowered really is open-ended—well, for the time being, at least.
Geek: Conversely, with this - and the Omnibus - just released, did you ever think what could have been a one-off joke would have such a lasting appeal... And something that you would put so much time and heart into?
AW: Short version: Nope!
Long(er) version: Seriously, I had no idea whatsoever that a few random, tossed-off pages of goofy jokes about a hard-luck superheroine would develop into a long-running project—in fact, arguably the longest-running single project of my career so far.
Geek: I don’t even remotely mean this as negative as it sounds, but this seems to be by far the most insular volume of Empowered yet... Huge pay offs for fans, not so sure about non-fans - was that a concern at all, going into planning this volume?
AW: Well, considering that I went to great lengths to recap earlier volumes' events, I'm quite hopeful that new readers can follow the ongoing storylines. (Along those very lines, the first reviewer I've seen tackle Empowered vol.7 online seemed to have no problem whatsoever jumping right on board the series in mid-stream, I'm happy to report.) It is true, however, that a brand-new reader staring Empowered with this latest installment might not catch every possible bit of emotional resonance evoked by the previous six volumes, but that's not the end of the world.
In fact, I don't agree at all that this as the most insular volume of Empowered so far. The focus of the book is Ninjette, after all, and we learn a great deal about her in the course of the volume's stories, so that a new reader is almost as well-informed as an existing reader about her flaws, foibles, and dark secrets. Heck, Empowered vol. 7 even gets into a detailed explanation of how and why Emp's unreliable supersuit functions—or malfunctions—which is a perfect, dare I say, "jumping on point" for readers new to the series' premise.
Geek: And for potential new fans, regardless of my last question, why pick up this volume?
AW: Because Empowered vol. 7 is, in all humbleness, quite frankly awesome? *Raises one eyebrow*
Let's try this list of the book's luxurious features: Do you like over-the-top hilarity? Scenes of raw, naked emotionality? Wildly kinetic and viciously brutal fight scenes? Sexy comedy involving comedic sex? Cute girls in tight shorts? Cute boys in tight shorts? Do you like sudden flurries of carefully foreshadowed plot twists? Wanna see superheroines performing Sleater-Kinney karaoke? Need advice for setting superheroes on fire? Care to hear shocking revelations unveiled through arm-wrestling? Well, Empowered vol.7 has all that and much, much more, folks!
Geek: Lastly, what else is coming up? I know you’re working on a few one-shots, right?
AW: Yeahp! Can't announce the details as yet, but I can say that a promising number of Empowered one-shots are already underway, each one written by me and featuring artwork by a different Very Special Guest Artist—and, I hasten to add, additional pages drawn by me as well.
Beyond that, I'm working on a handful of even more shadowy and mysterious "Secret Empowered Side Projects," about which I can say even less. All I can say is, keep an eye on my Twitter and deviantART pages, as news might be announced sometime soon-ish.
Empowered Vol. 7 hits comic book shops on May 30th, from Dark Horse Comics!