Let me tell you, the best superhero books I read right now are not being published by the two companies most associated with superheroes. I’m sure there are some books within DC and Marvels line that totally nail what it is to be a hero or comments on how heroes are perceived and how they themselves perceive what heroism means but I’m clearly not reading those books. So when I think about those two things, I think of my love of Empowered and my new love of One Punch Man. Both books bring something new and refreshing to the table. Both books, for me, stand head and shoulders above so much else.
For those uninitiated I’ll give a bit of a summary of the two. Empowered is billed as “A sexy superhero comedy (except when it isn’t).” Empowered, a book I go on and on about when I actually write on the blog, is about a heroine who has an unreliable, and skin tight, supersuit that when it tears she loses her powers. Many times being tied up and gagged by supervillains. This has resulted in her being given a bad reputation as ineffective, a laughing stock, and worse. In spite of this, and the wealth of self-esteem issues she suffers from, Emp keeps trying to be the best hero she can and occasionally whups some serious ass. One Punch Man on the other hand is about a man named Saitama who decided to become a hero for fun and ended up being, as I saw one person online describe him, a walking deus ex machina. He is overly powerful. However, he is mostly unknown to the public for a deal of time and when his name starts getting out there he is considered a fraud by many. That does not deter Saitama from his mission to be a hero.
Both these heroes are perceived by the public as one thing and by friends and allies as another. Of the two Empowered has more obvious message about perception. The series spun out of Herione-In-Distress commissions. Empowered is well crafted cheesecake that takes on the male gaze as well as slut shaming and internal misogyny. The character is considered a joke by many of her peers and not taken seriously in spite of her best efforts and even her successes. Emp deals with a lot of bullshit throughout the series and it is frustrating at times but that makes her wins even more powerful. She is supported emotionally by her boyfriend Thugboy, best friend Ninjette, and the multidimensional being who is trapped inside a cosmic pimp belt on her living room table known as Caged Demonwolf. These three, and some others, see Emp a strong woman. They do not dismiss her or they quickly are won over by her attitude and charm.
As for the Super Homeys who she works with-their view of their teammate has been a long running theme. Volume 4, which I would say is the first great volume of the series, focus’ around the Capey Awards and Emps joke of a nomination. The idea of an award show for superheores by superheroes is laughable in itself and shows just how egotistical the community is. The volume introduces and reveals a number of important characters and character moments. The results of the big bad guy fight at the end of the book rolls on as a plot point all the way through to the recent volume. But before we get there in the next book Emp first becomes the one to convince the team to go after a mostly unknown villain Wiley Pete which leads to catastrophic consequences for some, and the asshole Major Havoc starts the rumor she’s really a villain in hiding. Havoc has beef with ehr for spurning his advances, alleging teammate dWarf was behind the attack at the Cspeys (he was but no witness’), and then this assignment that got teammates killed when she was not one of them as she did not come with the team. That was actually his decision to live her behind showing more that Havoc is a jerk. Empowered finds herself at odds with the scary awesome Death Monger in volume six and ends up winning-which no Super Homey believes until Sistah Spooky backs her up. This is important for a number of reasons (which I mostly won’t give away) because Sistah was very much the antagonist to her from the get go. People know she hates Emp but after volume 5 her attitude cooled and the two paired up for a crazy unsuccessful mission in volume 8. That leads to this years volume 9…
Based around a review/evaluation of big superheroes who find Empowereds recent activities troubling. Her reputation, the troubles she’s faced, and how dangerous she is. However word gets out that Empowered can access a remote cache of super deadly alien weaponry she gets snatched up under the Councils noses (their grand idea is to put her in cryo until they can get a good idea of what to do) and warned of an impending parade of villains who want to grab her for access to weapons. Emp has to kick ass mostly using all the dirt and rumors shes gathered on these villains. How? By the fact after being tied up and gag the villains viewed her as so useless they just went on blabbing about things that should be kept secret. Its beautiful how she turned the tables on so many folks. I don’t want to get into too much details of the latest volume but this ties up major plot points from volume 4 that are extremely gratifying for longtime readers.
Empowered is a hero through and through. For everything she has to deal with, the confidence and esteem issues, she pulls it together and keeps fighting. She believes in being a good person and has shown several times to go out of her way for people. Including thugs and bad guys. Her friendships exemplifies her lack of ego and selflessness. Not just with the main supporting cast but also with the dead superheroes still up and kicking. Many of the living superheroes are worried what civilians would do knowing a number of dead superpowered individuals are still sorta alive and have shuffled them away, while trying to pretend they don’t exist. Emp finds out on accident but is casual and buddy-buddy with them instantly. Emp is a genuinely good person and a nails what it means to be a hero.
In One Punch Man, much like Empowered, the popularity of heroes is an aspect of the world. However in OPM its less about the hero culture and more about the structure of the Hero Association that is the governing body of the worlds heroes. They have a ranking system (C Class, B Class, A Class, S Class) that heroes move up in through their work as well as the popularity with people. Saitama, doesn’t care. He went out and killed monsters. He did not know about the Hero Association and only registered because ‘why not?’ Him and his ‘disciple’ the cyborg Genos sign up and test. Genos gets thrown in the bottom ranking of the highest class (S Class) based on his scores as well as his look and the little documented evidence of his power. Where as Saitama fails the written test but breaks all the records in the physical. However the poeple in charged regulate him to the bottom of the weakest class, with some dismissing his physical test scores as a fluke or a cheat. Saitama probably is unaware of this, nor would he care. He has shown time and time again he’s just doing what he believes is right in spite of the vanity of other so-called heroes or how the populace view him.
In one case he destroys a meteor threatening the world but gets blamed for the damage it caused. Saitama doesn’t care if people are angry, he did what he had to to save his home and the world. One S-Class hero, SilverFang, recognizes and respects Saitama not just for his strength but his attitude. In one story we discover S-Class hero King is really a fraud. Not on purpose, but because the Hero Association was too idiotic to look deeper into a series of monster killings beyond the fact a single man happened to be at several scenes and survived. They gave him a rank and he took it cause he would get paid. It becomes clear to him that Saitama is the real hero but he is not concerned with destroying Kings reputation. He doesn’t care about accolades nor does he feel it necessary to out this man. The two become friend and hang out. The clearest example of Saitamas heroism and selflessness comes in the Deep Sea King storyline.
The story followed a sea monster who essentially wants to kill humanity. He has defeated several heroes of different classes. All of these heroes show fearlessness in the situation. Genos gets pretty much demolish, the unpowered C-Class hero Licenseless Rider demonstrates again that being a hero is about heart. Saitama, he shows up and checks on the two before killing Deep Sea King with one punch. However what should be a matter of celebration for the people gets disrupted by one man who believes its a joke. All these heroes got their ass kicked and this bald dude wins with one punch? He begins to turn their opinion on these people. Their money goes to these heroes and clearly they are not worth it. Saitama decides to play the part of vain, egotistical credit stealer. Publicly stating the heroes wore him down and he took advantage and thus the credit. Later, Licenseless Rider writes him a thank you later and even treats him for food.
Saitama is here to save the day. While he does climb the rankings and proves doubters wrong, its not why he does anything. He is not interested in impressing the other heroes. He is not interested in being a celebrity. Not interested in the popularity contest, really. He’s a hero. He is out there to save the day. Both titles really look at hero culture, hero popularity and celebrity, ego and most importantly what it really matters to hero. Heart, determination, and doing the right thing regardless of it makes you popular.