Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"The unthinkable harm we have done to each other is the foundation of our intimacy. As I believe is the case in many relationships."

Let me talk about a particular detail of Empowered. People have talked at length about this comic and its even blend of raw human drama, genuinely unsettling villains (hello jovial white phosphorous elemental, skullfuck enthusiast, cannibal for fun Willy Pete), tightly timed thrills, swaggering sureness of style and the obvious sadistic pleasure Mr Adam Warren takes in squeezing bitter tears of frustration out of the hordes of perverts he imagines hungers for just one nip-slip among its 2000+ pages of masterfully meticulous near-nudity. Sprinkled with some staggeringly inventive superheroics.

And alliteration.

But it occurs to me not much has been said (at least not that I've heard) about that uncommon beast of friendship between the characters of Empowered and Sistah Spooky. As it develops over the nine volumes so far

it becomes maybe the most intense, most complex, most heartfelt, most painful, most real, least hopeful relationship seen in the field of fiction. Starting on a foundation of (variously real and imagined) abuse from both parts, they come to a point of fucking storming the fucking gates of fucking Hell together (no spoilers), bound by a wholly unspoken but so clearly shown stew of guilt and shame, mutual insecurities, implicit trust and respect of the most unshakable, undeniable, involuntary sort; shared pain and grief and small victories and unforgivable failures.

And they do all this and become as intimate with each other as any two souls ever were, surrounded by a whirlwind of sex and sexuality and sexualization, one of them lesbian and the other bicurious-when-drunk, without the slightest trace of sexual or romantic attraction between them.

This is precious, and I don't think it's just because we as a society have trouble coming up with stories where women's relationships don't have a component of being performative for an audience of straight men. It's more that all (non-familial) intimacy past a certain level is supposed to involve sex. We don't seem equipped to imagine relationships going in any other direction. Times of extreme stress and immediate death, and I'm going mostly by my own childhood and The Thin Red Line here, will push us to seek comfort and release in any port.

I believe Emp and Spooky not going there is a bold and unusual storytelling grip as well as showing an inspiring strength of character. There's dignity and courage and humanity in their platonic love-slash-hate. I know I tend to write a weaker breed of characters myself; perhaps that kind of strength has been beyond my imagination.

But reading about theirs gives me hope.

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