Spurned Sistah Spooky Too Hot To Handle

by Vince Brusio

Rock and Roll High School meets Tromaville schizophrenia might be the best way to describe the powerful popsicle fun that awaits you in Adam Warren’s Empowered & Sistah Spooky’s High School Hell #1(OCT170019). Jealousy, envy, and resentment amongst haughty hotties as they stumble through funhouse fear only begins to describe the super vibe that is this story from Dark Horse Comics. In this PREVIEWSworld Exclusive interview, Adam Warren himself assumes the role of the chaotic carnival barker to show you just how crazy comics can get when the one rule you learn is that...there are no rules.

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Vince Brusio: Why focus on Sistah Spooky for a mini-series? What are you looking to explore in this story that was a rock un-turned in previous Empowered adventures?

Adam Warren: First, a little Empowered back story. Sistah Spooky — back then a powerless, normal-human girl named Theresa — endured a truly miserable high school experience thanks to a venomous legion of unnaturally gorgeous classmates, all of whom had sold their souls for “icy blonde hotness.” (Par for the course in a wacky ol’ superhero universe, folks!) Theresa, too, signed a pact with the devil — or a devil, at least — to become “infernally hawt,” but wound up being granted even more magic than beauty, leading to her subsequent caped career as a superpowered sorceress. 

Now, one idea I’d held from the first moment I introduced Spooky’s origin was how would her already vicious and spiteful ex-classmates react if they learned that poor little Theresa had become not only just as beautiful as them, but had been granted magical, life-changing superpowers as well? These haughty hotties’ jealousy, envy, and resentment would, I think, spike right off the charts. Mix that in with Spooky’s Infernal Service Provider scheming for revenge after recent Empowered events, and this scenario struck me as a potentially rich vein of entertainment gold. Time to mine that vein, I say! 

Plus, I loved the opportunity to ditch Empowered’s more conventional superhero settings in favor of two superwomen stripped of their powers and forced to survive by their wits in a hellishly satirical, funhouse-mirror distortion of high school. Giant, dissected frogs seek biology-lab vengeance! In the terrifying shadows of the (mean) girls’ room, venomous, school-uniformed succubi ambush Spooky with a magic mirror and drown Emp in her own tears! Junk-food elementals rampage sticky-pawed through the cafeteria! Backstabbing blondes screw each other over to claim Spooky’s hoarded magic for themselves and ascend to goddesshood as the all-powerful Queen Bee of High School Hell!  

Vince Brusio: For those who may not be familiar with the back-story, give us a primer for the relationship between the “hotties” in High School Hell #1. 

Adam Warren: Early on in Empowered, the magically beautiful but deeply insecure Sistah Spooky replayed her own high-school-era torment with her notably blonde teammate Empowered, but this time as the merciless bully instead of the hapless bullied. Later in the series, the two “superchicas” reached an uneasy rapprochement after Spooky dragged Emp into a desperate and ultimately doomed attempt to rescue Mindf**k, her slain—and blonde!—lover from the depths of hell. (Theresa’s dear, departed Mindf**k, by the way, ends up playing an important role in the mini-series. For a dead woman, she sure gets around!).

Empowered has always been about — as one review put it — “superheroics and human frailty” with Sistah Spooky being one of the most interestingly flawed but compelling examples from a cast full of colorfully damaged characters. With her once all-important career and “suprasocial status” now in tatters and, as a former Mean Girl cast down into a hellscape of Even Meaner Girls, she’s forced to confront her ugly past and uncertain future over the course of the mini-series. Note also that Emp gets a bruising, harrowing education as to exactly how Theresa wound up as maniacally “blonde-phobic” as she is. Can Emp and Spooky overcome their differences and long-simmering bitterness to become genuine, not-just-in-name-only teammates and escape the infernal, school-uniformed deathtrap caging them? Let’s find out!

Vince Brusio: Why did you decide to go with a standard comic book format for this series?

Adam Warren: As much as I like the slightly squat 6.5” X 9” format used for the regular Empowered volumes, I found it a bit unsatisfying when we used it for “floppy” individual issues in the previous Guest Artist one-shots and mini-series. See, conventional comics are printed 6.63” X 10.25”; to me, the extra 1.25” missing from the vertical dimension felt conspicuous when I was leafing through the older Empowered floppies along with other Dark Horse comics. As in, “Hey, wait—where did the rest of the page go? Am I being cheated, here?” Well, no, but the format’s squatness only happened because the original series was drawn on teeny, letter-size copy paper. Belatedly, I finally realized that Empowered comics drawn by Guest Artists—note the capitalization!—didn’t need to be stuck with this nonstandard print size driven by my own goofy, idiosyncratic choice of art board.

This also makes a notable difference in page layouts, as a “taller” comic format allowed me an expanded selection of panel arrangements. Ah, the luxurious extra headspace granted by that extra 1.25”! Why, I was able to comfortably rough out three-tiered Empowered pages at last! Huzzah!

Vince Brusio: Tell us how Carla Speed McNeil was brought into this project as the series’ artist. Why was she the right fit for Empowered?

Adam Warren: I’ve always loved Carla’s great work on her bold and daring “soft SF” series Finder, both for her audacious, supercharged-with-Big-Ideas writing and her beautifully expressive artwork — especially regarding her superlative handling of characters and facial expressions, which are absolutely critical to me. In my wildly biased opinion, any comic artist who can’t rock a strong, emotive close-up is sadly incomplete as a creator. Carla, needless to say, kills it in that department —and many others! — so, when a brief window opened in her crowded schedule, I leapt at the chance to run a long-gestating Empowered mini-series pitch by her.

Plus, as Carla is arguably a better writer than me and letters the book herself, we’ve enjoyed the unusual luxury of batting dialogue revisions back and forth between us as the pages have progressed, making the mini-series even more of a collaborative experience than usual. Synergy ahoy, folks!

Vince Brusio: If you were to go full-blown geek over the keyboard, and bang out a teaser for all your fans on social sites, what scene would you play up as the mindblower, or the one that could set off a conspiracy theory?

Adam Warren: Ah, but I’m always full-blown geeking over the keyboard, and everywhere else! (Er, wait, that sounds bad…)  

Gotta say, as a depowered—and school-uniformed!—Emp and Spooky are run through the hellscape’s ritualized gantlet of one high-school-themed deathtrap after another, the outlandish set pieces that follow are always humorous in nature but also pretty damn brutal, both emotionally and physically. Can our struggling heroines avoid beaten to death by bullying blonde witches spellcasting abusive text messages and summoning violent emoji? Or strangled and sliced by superpowered Beckys using their oh-so-good hair as lethal magical weapons? Or impaled by the magically piercing, blue-eyed gaze of an ex-classmate with gorgon-like powers?

Ah, but the most intense and compelling part of the mini-series is probably its final act, as by issue #6 the story takes an alarmingly coldblooded and bloody-minded turn. Seriously Mean Girls with increasingly goddess-level powers turn out to be even more dangerous than any conventional supervillain, as the desperate, overwhelmed Emp and Spooky find out the hard way. Is one of the wannabe Queen Bees jockeying for absolute power hiding a crucial if not critical secret, though? And might all hell break loose in this already infernal hellscape because of it? Quite possibly!

Anyhoo, hope you'll check out Empowered & Sistah Spooky’s High School Hell #1 and find out for yourself. Thanks!

 

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Vince Brusio writes about comics, and writes comics. He is the long-serving Editor of PREVIEWSworld.com, the creator of PUSSYCATS, and encourages everyone to keep the faith...and keep reading comics.

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