Adam Warren’s self-aware superheroine finds herself serving as the lone security agent for an inter-timeline auto-show in “Empowered Special #4: Animal Style,” hitting stands June 5 from Dark Horse Comics. The titular hero, Emp, unexpectedly comes up against a band of would-be car thieves in animal-themed mecha-suits. John Staton provides art and brings his mechanical illustration skills to the table in full effect, rendering the mecha battle suits and alt-timeline autos with aplomb. Warren himself contributes artwork for several black and white flashback scenes, as Emp recalls her college training as a Suprahuman Studies major.
Comic Book Resources spoke recently with “Empowered” creator Adam Warren about “Animal Style.” The writer and artist touched on the inspiration behind the story, crafting a cat-and-mouse brawl and watching Staton bring his mecha-dreams to life.
CBR News: Adam, what’s Emp up to in this latest special?
Adam Warren: Well, let me start off by pasting in my finely crafted solicitation copy for the brand-new one-shot, “Empowered: Animal Style”:
TERRORPIN! POWERPACHYDERM! BRASS MONKEY! CYBERIAN TIGER! SUPERCOBRA! MAUL BUNNY! Can struggling superheroine Empowered foil a mass carjacking by these animal-themed criminal mecha at the 21st Annual Alternate Timeline Superhero Auto Show? Can one exceedingly flimsy ‘supersuit’ overcome fourteen hostile tons of heavy metal? This action-packed new Empowered one-shot answers, ‘MAYBE!’
In effect, “Animal Style” could be described as “Die Hard” at a convention center, but with hulking criminal mecha in place of faux German terrorists, and a beleaguered but quick-thinking superheroine in an increasingly tattered supersuit in place of an off-duty cop in a increasingly tattered undershirt. Not, however, that I could claim that “Animal Style’s” lead antagonist, a fairly doofy fellow in a bunny-shaped powersuit, is in quite the same villainous league as Alan Rickman’s superlative Hans Gruber.
Meanwhile, I personally contribute a handful of black and white pages flashing back to Emp’s collegiate days, in which the idealistic young Suprahuman Studies major details a few of her (many) ideas for improving the all-too-benighted superhero field. As one might guess, Emp’s college-era speculations just happen to tie in to events occurring in the main story.
You worked with artist John Staton on “Animal Style.” How did you go about writing to his strengths, and what sort of working relationship did you establish?
As with all the “Empowered” one-shots, I wrote “Animal Style” specifically for my guest artist’s skill set; in this case, the story was tailored to John’s predilection for clever and inventive mecha design, which I’d admired from afar for quite some time. I can draw arguably decent-ish mecha myself, but I possess barely a fraction of John’s consummate skill at — and, more importantly, enthusiasm for –mechanical drawing. What would be a chore for me is a joy for John to draw, and I think that attitude shines through in his work.
Also, John is a notably clever and witty fella as well as an excellent artist, so he contributed plenty of whimsical, pun-intensive riffs in his copious designs for both the animal-themed mecha and the goofy panoply of alternate-timeline superhero vehicles they’re targeting at the auto show. (Yeah, it’s true — John even enjoys drawing cars, which are often the bane of a comic artist’s existence — or my existence, at least.)
Also, whilst praising my collaborators on “Animal Style,” I should mention also the fine contributions of Blambot on the book’s challenging lettering — such as the ridiculously type-intensive fake ad for the Superhero Auto Show, which worked out spectacularly well — and Guru eFX on the equally difficult coloring. Thanks, folks!
Staton definitely knows his way around a mecha-suit. How much direction did you give him on character designs?
Given John’s over-the-top skills as a mecha designer, I just gave him the (groan-worthy) names and rough descriptions of the powersuited bad guys, and let him run with ’em. Needless to say, he did not disappoint; if anything, he might have gone further than I’d anticipated.
John cranked out an almost absurd number of detailed, impressive design sheets for “Animals Style’s” assorted mecha and superhero-auto-show vehicles — at least 40 pages worth of them, at first count. Sadly, we weren’t able to reproduce any of his many, many sweet design sheets in the one-shot, as my own black and white art and John’s 24 color pages took up all of the issue’s available page-count. I am, however, hoping to reproduce a goodly sample of John’s designs in a future trade-paperback collection of the “Empowered” one-shots down the road.
After John joined Twitter a few months ago, he began posting pieces of design work that I hadn’t previously seen, which means that his total amount of “pre-visualization” work must have amounted to at least 50 pages! Note, by the way, that I can’t say for certain that I’ve done 50 pages worth of design work during all of “Empowered’s” volumes so far.
John Staton’s aforementioned Twitter account is @JohnHStaton, and mine is @EmpoweredComic. Both of us tend to tweet a fair amount of “Empowered”-related artwork, for whatever that’s worth.
“Animal Style” is essentially one big all out brawl. How much of a balance did you want to strike between action and story explication?
I should hastily clarify that the story doesn’t depict a mindless brawl, but a cat-and-mouse scenario in which an outnumbered and outgunned Emp has to outthink and outmaneuver a numerically — and mechanically — superior foe. Using only her wits and a modest set of often-flaky “D-list” superpowers, our heroine must scavenge and improvise her way to victory using the resources of the Alternate-Timeline Superhero Auto Show around her. Not, by the way, that Emp’s eventual victory is assured; as a notoriously — and, often, literally — struggling superheroine, it’s entirely possible in an “Empowered” story that our protagonist could actually lose — no, really!
Ah, but so many other questions are raised! Might the disadvantages of using an advertising-based operating system for one’s power-suit become a story point? Could mecha-based cross-dressing possibly be afoot? Will stealing alternate-timeline hardware from a super-heroic convention center’s mysterious “ParaChronoZone” prove problematic? Could the infamous “breakback pose” play a notable role in one scene? Is the “spray and pray” approach to full-auto cannon-fire tactically advisable? Might unthinkingly treating a female superhero in a cliched and stereotyped manner prove ultimately disastrous? All this, and so much more, will all be answered in our story’s action-packed onslaught of 29 color and B&W pages!
Plus, I should further note that “Empowered: Animal Style” will feature an exclusive preview of the next guest-artist-drawn one-shot, about which I’m pretty darn excited — and so, I think, will “Empowered” readers, once they see who the guest artist in question will be. (Ooh, mysterious!)
There’s a good deal of satire and criticism in “Empowered” — but, at times, the book also seems to fall prey to those same criticized tropes. What sort of position, if any, do you take with the project?
The same position I always take, really: I simply maintain that Empowered is “a sexy superhero comedy, except when it isn’t.” Any further analysis, well, I leave to the reader — mainly because I need to spend all my available time working, rather than talking about the work, if you follow me. Speaking of which, back to the drawing board!
“Empowered Special #4: Animal Style” by Adam Warren and John Staton hits stores June 5.
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