Panel 1: For the record, Ninjette is apparently playing one of the Sony Playstation installments of Tenchu, a stealth-based ninja videogame series of which I was quite fond. I would ordinarily assume that she’s playing one of the Playstation 2 iterations (Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven or Tenchu: Fatal Shadows) but, as problems with the game’s camera soon become a story point, she might one of the earlier, rather wonkier and glitch-prone Playstation 1 games (Tenchu: Stealth Assassins or Tenchu 2: Rise of the Stealth Assassins).
Panel 3: God—or godlike, immortal overlord—help me, but the Caged Demonwolf’s line about “doom, despair and agony” is a mistaken reference to a recurring skit, “Gloom, Despair and Agony,” from the syndicated variety TV series Hee Haw. While I may be the proverbial “hick from the sticks,” I have no justifiable excuse for having watched that godawful cornpone—ahem—“comedy” show as a youth, especially since I never had much fondness for the country music it relied so heavily on. I strongly suspect, however, that the show’s “Hee Haw Honeys” might have made an impression on Adolescent Me, perhaps especially when they sported “Daisy Duke”-style cutoff jean shorts—which, by startling coincidence, Ninjette herself wears off and on throughout Empowered. Gasp!
Ah, but notice that I inadvertently—though appropriately, given the demonic character speaking—upgraded the “darkness level” of the skit’s name from “Gloom, Despair and Agony” to “doom, despair and agony” when I misremembered its title. Along those lines, as a child I misheard a key line from ABBA’s song “Dancing Queen” in a similarly grimmer fashion; that is, I always heard the line “You can dance/ You can jive/ Having the time of your life” as “You can dance/ You can die/ Having the time of your life.” Yes, even as a wee lad I was, it seems, already nursing an excessively bleak and dismal point of view. (In fact, the supranym of a key Empowered supervillain, “Deathmonger,” is directly derived from a nickname a fellow Kubert School student once coined for yrs truly. Grim, I say!)
By the way, note that the Demonwolf’s line referring to Ninjette as a “foolhardy fighting femme” is a harbinger of the far more ambitious strains of alliteration I would later slather on his dialogue in future volumes, either to readers’ delight or frustration. Seriously, nothing else in this series seems remotely as polarizing to readers as the Demonwolf’s later, ultra-abstruse speech patterns, which folks seemed to enjoy or despise in roughly equivalent numbers, judging from the responses I used to get.
Panel 5: “Seeking steps” is another reference to a supposed—ahem—“real ninjutsu” term from one of self-proclaimed “34th Grandmaster of the Togakure Ryu” Masaaki Hatsumi’s many, many books on the topic.
Note also that the superheroine “Femifist” whom Emp is reading about does make a cameo appearance later on in the series, but not until Empowered vol. 4.