Man, was it two years ago that I reviewed Empowered Volume 6? Yes, it certainly seems so. Looking back, I found it really troubling, full of a lot of spinning of wheels and larding on more subplots without really wrapping up the 4 or 5 he still had going in the main. So, with a substantial bit of time off, is Volume 7 the return to form I was hoping it'd be?
Well, yes and no. Empowered Vol. 7 is a return to form in that we stick a bit closer to our main characters, advance one of the subplots began wayyyyy back in Volume 3, and get a slight advancement on some others in-between, but . . .
I am under no illusion that Adam Warren would read anything I have to say on the subject of his work and do not presume influence that I do not and will never have. That said, that whole gimmick of having something major happen in the book only turn turn the page and have the legend "END COUNTER-FACTUAL SCENARIO" and find out it was all a fantasy or hallucination or something? That's really fucking annoying. You could probably get away with it once, but there's 3-4 of them in this volume and after the first couple, one feels like they're being jerked around to no good purpose.
However, apart from that irritating stylistic noodling, this issue is quite solid (even if the title character is, for the most part, a spectator) featuring Ninjette, Empowered's best friend and drinking buddy, getting bloody revenge on the Ayakami ninja clan who nearly maimed her in Volume 3. It's good in that we move this along somewhat, have some time to get a sense of Ninjette's character (which raises some intriguing questions and explains a lot about why she's as screwed up as she is) and we even get an interesting bit (if slightly dubious, as Warren is so determined to continually deal in SHOCKING SWERVES (which, if you do it enough times, guarantees that no one really cares about anything that's happening anymore, which is the final death of your story) that he immediately walks back that one ends up not really trusting if any of this will count by the middle of the book) with the Caged Demonwolf, whose Kirbyesque long-windedness got way overused in previous volumes to the point where what had previously been a funny bit, I cringed and made my way through as it went on . . .and on . . .
But this time, he drops the highfalutin' narration for a section of this volume and talks with Ninjette about mortality and how an infinite godlike being views time and memory. And it is fucking golden, completely subverting all expectations for the story, but in a way that feels totally in-character and natural and doesn't bullshit around with that "END COUNTER-FACTUAL SCENARIO" stuff--it's just a moment between two characters that we've come to care about and that we invest some emotion in it. Had Volume 6 had more of this, I would have liked it more.
So the spine of Volume 7 is basically one big and bloody ninja-fight (hence this review is not a long one), punctuated with flashbacks, Counter-Factual Scenarios (grrrr . . .) Ninjette's rather irritating sidekick Oyuki-Chan, and a few bits and bobs that touch on various subplots that have been ticking over. And your tolerance of this will depend on how much you're invested in the characters and how much you like bloody ninja fights. I kinda do, but you probably might have guessed that by now.
In all, this feels like a stronger volume than the previous one did, annoying Counter-Factual Bullshit aside, because the characters are foregrounded and the stories teased out in the earlier volumes feel like they might be moving toward some resolution, and the stakes are such that the fate of the characters are in some sort of doubt. If Warren can resist the temptation to continue swerving the readers and spinning his wheels, we'll get back to Empowered at its best--a superhero story that plays with the subtext and text of superheroes in interesting ways with very real, and very identifiable characters. I really hope Volume 8 is an even more definitive return to form.