Friday, January 4, 2013

Recommended Reading for 1/4: Princeless

Princeless, created by writer Jeremy Whitley and artist M. Goodwin, is a fairy tale like none other you've ever read. Fairy tales have been a leading part of modern culture since Walt Disney produced Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and in modern years we've seen a more revisionist vision, with comics like Fables and television shows like Once Upon a Time. And while Disney has tried to make it's stories a little more modern, in the end the princess always winds up with a husband, whether it's a prince or a good hearted commoner. I don't see that happening in this book. At all. What Princeless does is take fairy tales and give them the Buffy the Vampire Slayer treatment; it acknowledges all the tropes with wit and a wink, and then reverses them, giving us a comic that is great fun.

Adrienne isn't your average princess. She doesn't think she should have to wait and be saved by some prince or knight, and she doesn't take guff from anyone. But all her sisters, on their sixteenth birthdays were put in towers to wait for their prince to come, so against her will, she's dumped in her very own tower too. But Adrienne finds a sword under her bed, and after explaining to Sparky, the dragon guarding her tower, exactly what's going to happen to him if someone competent shows up, the two are off to save Adrienne's six other sisters from their towers and teach her father the king a thing or two about modern princesses.

Adrienne is everything that the traditional princess (read Disney) is not. She isn't sitting around with chirping birds, brushing her long flowing hair and pining for the right man. She's feisty, she's quick-witted, and she's sharp tongued. She knows exactly what she wants and isn't going to need some prince to get it for her. She is also dark skinned with a wild mane of hair. This isn't the corporate, pre-packaged princess, but a three dimensional character that is a great role model for modern girls.

Princeless is a perfect all ages comic. There's plenty of action, with Adrienne getting into and out of a couple of pretty harrowing scrapes, but nothing that would make you want to clap your hands over your kids' eyes. It's also a great deal of fun, with some really funny moments, and Adrienne's inner monologue provides some great laughs as she comments on the world around her. More than that, as I said above, I think Whitlow and Goodwin are crafting a book with a character that you really root for and provides a good alternative to the way young women are portrayed in a lot of pop culture now. While Adrienne might be snarky, she deeply loves her sisters and brother, she cares about people, and while she might be a princess, she's by no means spoiled. She's a character you like and want to win.

Over the course of the first four issue Princeless mini-series, the reader starts to meet a supporting cast for Adrienne. Sparky, her dragon, is more Puff than Smaug. The King, Adrienne's father, seems more one dimensional than the other character so far, a growling bully of a man, but there are moments where you see he really does care about his daughters, and I'm curious to see how he's developed. Devin, Adrienne's twin and her only brother, is a poet, quiet, and reserved, the opposite of his brash sister, and serves as the butt of his father's abuse, as the King feels like Devin is not a worthy heir. But it's in issue three that we meet the character who looks to be Adrienne's companion on her adventures. Bedelia is a half-dwarf (she got her height from her mother) who does all the work in her father's blacksmith shop, but gets no credit because she believes no one would buy arms made by a girl. When things go awry, she runs off with Adrienne and Sparky. While Adrienne is caustic, Bedelia is sweet and maybe a little goofy. They make a great duo.

While both kids and grown-ups will enjoy the action and characters throughout Princeless, there is some wonderful commentary about the fantasy genre throughout the book. When we see one of Adrienne's knight suitors arrive to fight the dragon, he addresses her as "fair," which she promptly puts down by pointing out that neither her skin or hair would be considered fair by the dictionary definition of light in tone. This does a great job of setting the tone for who Adrienne is. But the best scene, and the one that should tickle the funny bone of any comic fan, is when Bedelia shows Adrienne her secret project: the Warrior Woman line of armor, in styles called, "The Diana," "The Sonja," and, "The Warrior Princess." There's a lot of commentary in the scene about the ridiculous garb that female fantasy heroines wear, naturally, but seeing the styles of some of fantasy's most famous female warriors out of context really drives home how ridiculous they look.

Artist M. Goodwin provides art perfectly suited to this series. Her fantasy creatures, armor, and castles are up there with any contemporary fantasy artist, but she mixes in a sense of fun that radiates out of the art. Sparky is a unique dragon design, one clearly recognizable as a dragon but made to suit his role and the world. The characters are expressive and unique in their design. I am curious to see what Adrienne's sisters look like, to see how they differ from their feisty sister. All ages comics can be tricky from an art standpoint, I think, since the artist doesn't want the comic to look like a "kids comic" but needs to work in a way that is clean and simple to make is accessible for the younger set to make sure they follow the story. Goodwin's work is perfect for this, with good clean lines.

I am always looking for a new all ages comic to share with my niece and to put out there for all of you to read about and hopefully share with your kids to spread the love of comics. And it's hard to find a lot of comics with a female lead that are good for everyone and have a lead that I'd want to see girls emulate. Princeless is the perfect storm of a lot of aspects. Whether you have a little girl you want to show that she can be as much of a hero as any boy, like a smart commentary hidden in fantasy in the same way the Terry Pratchett's Discworld does, or if you just happen to like good, funny fantasy, there aren't many better comics on the market then Princeless.

Volume one of Princeless, "Save Yourself'," is currently available in trade. There were two one shots, "Short Stories for Warrior Women," last year as well, and the first issue of the second volume of Princeless begins publication next month.

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