Panel 1: Gotta say, as of a decade ago, ol’ Willy Pete was waaaaay ahead of the male fashion curve in terms of rocking a truly obnoxious beard.
Panel 2: Yeahp, the generally wacky Empverse does have a few hard edges, with Willy being one of the first such edges to appear in the series.
Panel 3: This bit about the exploding skull is taken from a fun fact in Charles Pellegrino’s nonfiction book Ghosts of Vesuvius about colorful and exciting ways to die from exposure to molten lava. However, I belatedly remembered that this is also a riff that briefly appears in William Gibson’s SF novel Count Zero, in which a hapless corporate operative’s head explodes after a laser beam breaches his skull. In fact, I ripped off that very anecdote in a three-page cyberpunk story I wrote and drew for a class at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, way back in the day. (That was from a potential SF project that I abandoned long ago, which did eventually make itself useful by lending its title to a Marvel miniseries I worked on decades later—namely, Livewires.)
Note that ol’ Willy Pete’s problem with exploding skulls was addressed in passing during his previous appearance in Empowered vol. 3.
By the way, thinking back on it, the death of Kid Anglerfish in particular sets in motion a long, long chain of disasters and tragedies throughout the series. Though horrific, “fish boy’s” fate was a relatively casual storytelling choice at the time, but I wound up building on it piece by piece throughout the rest of Empowered. (In fact, some of the events in my current miniseries, Empowered and Sistah Spooky’s High School Hell, are “butterfly effect” echoes of this grim episode.) I do, however, implore long-term readers to avoid SPOILER-iffic discussions of future events. Please?