It's a good things these things are once a year because I am amazingly lazy ass. Once again the time has come to check in with our favourite super-hero parody/ genuine super-hero story, Empowered. Last year we looked at Volume 5, wherein it looked like the main plots of the story were starting to gel and converge--The romantic triangle with Ninjette/Thugboy/Emp was soon to reach critical mass, longtime boogeyman Willy Pete finally took center stage in a battle against the Superhomeys, and things ended on a down note that kind of let one know that from here on in thigs were going to be a bit more on the "serious" side and less on the "parody" side.
So, naturally, with the sixth volume here at last, one would expect that the plot would accelerate as we approached the finish line for these plots, things converge even more, secrets are told, and plot points are paid off.
Well, SPOILER, that ain't what happens here. In the wake of Volume 5's bloodbath Emp is blamed for it--again--her constant haplessness and getting tied up now assumed to be a mastermind in disguise and on the receiving end of more hatred and mistrust than ever before, and it's highlighted a number of times in the volume, but it never quite comes off because well, no one's really that afraid of Emp, because she's constantly been sold as a joke in the superhuman community the idea that she had something to do with it doesn't leaven the withering contempt they have for her so it doesn't really work as well as it should.
Meanwhile, in further fallout from Volume 5, Sistah Spooky, former nemesis of Emp, is shattered over the loss of her ex at the end of Volume 5, a painful realization made even more agonizing because, to better cushion her from the loss, she left a telepathic simulation of herself in Spooky's mind to make her feel better. Unfortunately, it only makes her feel worse, especially when her ex's fate is used as leverage against her, because hey, the demon that accidentally gave her her powers is looking for and he is pissed off.
Further simmering subplots include the truth behind the cape-killing massacre in San Antonio and Thugboy's role in said massacre, and Ninjette's rival clan now coming for her with every damn ninja in the clan ready to kill the hell out of her.
And all this is pretty cool. Unfortunately, these are stray threads shoved aside for the main plot of this volume--Deathmonger, his army of the dead superheroes, and what are called "Bargain babies."
This is actually quite a clever bit, really--Warren is always good for having solid ideas, even if the execution ends up wanting. Bargain babies are heroes who get their powers in some sort of contract, with the upshot that even when/if they die, their superpowers with cause them to live--sorta--even after that. Then Deathmonger comes along and enslaves your or weaponizes your superpower and enlists you into his army of the dead.
All of this is fine, and it leads to a hilarious incidental bit where we learn how Emp got her super-suit in the first place, but none of it really ties in with everything that's going on. Don't get me wrong, the actual story is sound, the fight at the end is cool, and everything seems to be humming on all cylinders, but . . .
. . .this is the first volume of Empowered I can say I didn't think was as good as the last one. Part of it, I suppose is that we're getting into formulas now (Oh look, here's another Caged Demonwolf feature where he describes something in verbose high falutin language, and that was funny . . . the first time) and given the fallout of Vol. 5 and the modus operandi of our main villain this time it just feels like the whole book is a heavy grind of death and morbidity (I hope to God when volume 7 comes out I don't look back on the scene where Thugboy and Emp are fucking while Death watches and sports a . . .uhm . . .boner and say "Yeah, that's the nadir, right there.") and it's just not that pleasant to read. Whereas before Warren balanced the pathos, drama and humour very well, I don't think it works so much this time. It actually takes some effort to slog through all this.
Warren does himself no favours by rolling out even more subplots before tying a few of the ones he already had going off. There's a limit to how long even the most gifted writers can keep all the various plates spinning--if you don't then everything collapses. And while the concept is fairly interesting, the time for a book-length digression is not when things are building to the final confrontation/resolution of whatever you had going before that. I think it might have ultimately been better saved for after the resolution of the Willy Pete thing--you probably still could have done it at a later point in time when it came time for a new story cycle, but I sure as hell wouldn't have done it when I was already in the midst of bringing everything else to a boil. It feels a bit . . .off, somehow. When one loads down a car with too much weight, ultimately you're left with flat tires and a car that's going nowhere. I hope this is not the beginning of that.
Bottom line is, taken on its own, it's not bad--like pizza, when Empowered is bad it's still pretty good. As an installment in an ongoing story it's rather po-faced. Here's hoping Volume 6 was an aberration that was borne out of writer's block in terms of the main plot and/or an idea he felt sufficiently moved to do at once. That said, my ultimate judgment is that this was a disappointment, and I hope Warren will do better with Vol. 7