By: Adam Warren (story & black-and-white art), Brandon Graham (color art)
The Story: I need 20ccs of ninja stars, stat!
The Review: Empowered is an interesting series in a number of ways, but one of them is the method of its release. Unlike a monthly series or even serialized graphic novels like DC’s Earth One line, Empowered is typically released in trade paperback volumes comprised of as many short chapters as the story demands. The upside is that Empowered is a tighter and more detailed world than many series can provide. The unfortunate side effect is, of course, that Empowered doesn’t come out all that often.
So, while it may delay volume 9 a bit, fans of this strange little ‘superchica’ that could will likely be happy to know that Adam Warren has released another Empowered one-shot. This story is a fun, fairly self-contained romp through the fascinating periphery of Emp’s world. It’s less a lost chapter than a micro-sized volume, complete with all the wit, action, and unique turns of phrase that would entail. While the shorter size obviously limits Warren, he merely takes fewer detours and takes advantage of the lower expectations on the issue to craft a complete little package.
As some of you already know, superhero parodies often contain the most well-thought-out universes of all. Perhaps it’s the relentless nitpicking of comic book convention but, whatever the reason, Empowered has taken great joy in considering what the rest of the world looks like when your high school is just a day away from being full of idiot superheroes. In keeping with that rend, this issue takes us back to Purple Paladin Memorial Hospital. It seems that a young bio-ship is infected with interdimensional parasites and its mothership – ha – has threatened to demolish the city if her darling isn’t cured. It’s a fairly uncomplicated story with an uncomplicated resolution, but the magic lies in the details.
Many of the issue’s best moments are exploring the sheer weirdness of Purple Paladin. Warren litters the waiting room with loving jabs at some of comics’ biggest names, only to demonstrate his originality in the elevator, of all places. The dialogue shoots for ‘cute’ a little more often than I’m used to, but it’s charming enough and Emp’s down to earth reactions help ground the story through all of its weirdness.
One thing that will be of particular interest to longtime readers is that Warren only supplies a small portion of the art this go around; the rest is the work of Brandon Graham. Graham’s work is a definite departure from Warren’s anime-inspired aesthetic but fans of indie comics – as in too small for most indie publishers – will probably flip for it and if there was ever an Empowered story that suits such a look, this is probably it. The monstrous innards of a cross-dimensional alien are the perfect fit for the sketchy, rounded style of Graham’s artwork.
Though default expressions and resting poses show their flaws more clearly, when there’s dramatic action to be taken, things quickly come together. Mr. Graham also seems to enjoy playing with empty space. Many panels are dominated by massive shapes or prominent sound effects while others revel in the sheer amount of space around our questing heroines. In a few instances busy panels and open space even combine, resulting in strange but fascinating images that oddly remind of Richard Scary.
Another serious difference with Graham is that his art comes in color. The book has a lovely, sandy palette that calls on light muted colors to great effect. Admittedly, Emp’s suit is looking a couple shades lighter than normal, but if you’re going to nitpick something like that you’ll be missing just how lovely the colors are in this issue.
Unsurprisingly, some of the strongest panels are those where Emp’s suit is looking ‘starry’, an effect that Graham seems to reserve for moments when she’s particularly confident and/or/meaning when she’s using her powers. Simple spots as they are, they add a huge amount of texture to the character and look fantastic, really indulging the galactic look.
One other thing that I really like is the way Graham represents Emp’s body. While she’s still a very attractive character, you can understand why Elissa feels embarrassed donning her suit and fighting crime on camera. Her costume rides up, her nipples poke through the fabric, her boobs jiggle when she runs. Perhaps it’s just seeing the action in a style that it hasn’t been hammered home means sentai suits and unstable molecules, but it’s much more apparent how awkward the whole thing is. And while there’s certainly some sexiness about the way the issue is drawn, at times more than Warren’s work, it’s a style so removed from traditional pornography and cheesecake that it can generally get away with it.
As I mentioned, Warren does supply about a fifth of the issue with the same gorgeous art that long-time readers have come to love. Those who come to this one-shot fresh won’t find Warren’s best on display, but it’s in no way flawed. Particularly in the first few pages, Warren’s art is amazingly detailed and does a great job of expressing the motion of some elements without taking away from the stillness of others.
Unfortunately the two art styles don’t mesh particularly well. Between the colors and the simple differences in priorities, it’s kind of jarring when the change occurs. The script tries to get around this by using a false “The End” to separate one section from the other but, especially as the switch happens without a page flip, it’s a questionable success.
The change in art does help clue readers in to a clever narrative trick that might take a reread to full sink in, but while it serves as an effective hint, attempts to put off the reveal might hamstring the moment when it arrives. Needless to say I can’t help but wonder if Warren and Graham missed an opportunity in having such a harsh transition.
The Conclusion: A very different artist makes this an interesting take on the franchise, though I expect that whether it’s a good one or not will come down to personal preference. If you’re into the beauty of the grotesque or think that Adventure Time has the best aesthetic ever you’ll probably like it, but others will probably miss having a full story of Adam Warren’s art. I personally am not especially taken with Brandon Graham’s style, but it doesn’t take much away from the story, merely provides another avenue of enjoyment that I’m not walking at the moment.
Internal Medicine uses its smaller focus to explore a corner of Empowered’s world that might otherwise have gone unseen and uses its smaller size as an opportunity to try new things visually. It’s plenty clever but, despite a cool tie-in to a beloved chapter from volume 7, it’s non-essential. Easy to pick up and read, Empowered: Internal Medicine is probably best left to those interested in the art and Empowered fans looking for a quick fix.
– Noah Sharma