Turn Back the Pages is a biweekly feature where I spotlight a comic that is not fresh and new. It may have come out a few months ago or even a few years ago. Maybe it was hyped and popular, or maybe it was an underappreciated gem. Whatever the case, it’ll be a great comic that’s well worth a read.
Superheroes are sexy.
That’s not news to anyone. The tight spandex. The peak physical fitness. The contractually-obligated shirtless scene in every Marvel movie:
But for the longest time, comic book publishers seemed to think that “sexy” equaled a superheroine in an impractical costume twisted in a weird position to put both her boobs and butt on display. Combine that with some truly unfortunate storylines and shallow characterization, and it’s no wonder comics sometimes get a bad reputation for their treatment of female characters.
On paper, Empowered would seem like one of the worst examples of this. Its main character, the superheroine Empowered, gets her extraordinary abilities from her costume—a ridiculously sheer bodysuit that doesn’t hide anything. It also gets ripped in battle a lot, which not only exposes her but leaves her powerless. And so she regularly ends up captured by supervillains and put in bondage.
Sounds terrible, right?
But it’s actually incredibly well-done, and can be sexy, hilarious, and at times, tragic. Honestly, there’s nothing else like it in superhero media. Here’s what makes it so good:
A Great Heroine
It would be easy for Empowered to be a pure cheesecake character with no personality beyond what the plot demands, but the main strength of the series is how endearing and complex she is. She’s sweet, self-conscious, often exasperated and embarrassed, and—above all—heroic. No matter how many times she gets beaten or humiliated, she gets right back out there to do the right thing. Her sense of justice is what defines her, being strong enough to overcome her body image issues and how much she hates wearing that revealing costume that doesn’t work half the time. Because the costume helps her save people, and that’s what she’s going to do.
In-universe, she gets no respect—not from the villains and not from the superhero team who let her join because they only had one other woman on the roster. But the people closest to her know how amazing she is, and the writer treats her with respect (which I think is the difference between that icky objectifying feeling some comics have and the fun sexy feel of this one).
Above all, the reader is meant to admire and sympathize with her. The number of times she struggles in battle or is disregarded by her teammates make her victories feel all the more earned. When she finally does get her badass moments, it’s hard not to cheer knowing all the crap she went through to get there. (And she goes through a LOT of crap.)
And while Empowered is the star of the show, the supporting cast is great, too. From her henchman love-interest, Thug-Boy, to her hard-drinking ninja best-friend, they’re all well-rounded characters who get their moments to shine. Even the bullying, mean-girl superheroine gets depth and backstory as the series goes on.
The series describes itself as “a sexy superhero comedy (except when it isn’t),” which… is the perfect description, actually. Most of the time, the comic has a wacky, parodying tone, but it goes to some very dark places and does it with grace and pathos. The universe is inventive and has a lot of cool concepts, from Hollywood-esque award shows for superheroes to college degrees in Metahuman Studies, and it makes for some page-turning plots.
But make no mistake, there’s also a lot of sex, so if that’s not something you like reading, then steer clear. There’s pages upon pages of Empowered in bondage, sex scenes between her and Thug-Boy where only the X-rated bits are covered up, and even a funny short about superheroes who got their powers from alien STDs. Adult content abounds, so consider yourself warned.
While not for everyone, Empowered is a hilarious, poignant, and original take on the superhero genre. It’s full of complex female characters with agency, and it surprisingly addresses a lot of social issues while still staying funny and action-packed. Plus, it’s very, very sexy. And the best part is you can read the first several volumes for free at empoweredcomic.com. Go check it out!