Yo-ho-ho! Welcome back to the next installment of my Raven: The Pirate Princess reviews. If you’d like to catch up on things, check out my review here. And if you ARE caught up on the whole thing, check out my review of the newest issue here.
This week: we get to know Raven’s new crew, the girls go shopping, and toxic masculinity ruins the party again.
Issue #5: On A Ship, Every Episode Is A Bottle Episode
a.k.a “Listen up, you marvelous ladies”
After our first arc and all the dust has settled, it’s time to get to know Raven’s new crew. To quote Captain Abraham Smollet: ” Who hired this crew? This is undoubtedly the seediest bunch of cutthroats, villains, and scoundrels I have ever seen, so who hired them? ”
In actuality, we meet the diverse and interesting women who are helping run Raven’s shift. Sunshine, Katie, Ximena, and Jayla we already know, of course, but there’s not a single “extra” on the crew. There’s the deaf science-buff Cid, the fashionista Pirate (her parents thought they were cute), the sensitive and huggy Melody, and the sun-loving yet oddly pale Dezzy. Most of the crew bides its time with rigging races as Raven gets everything in order and Katie plans a sword fighting lesson.
The big conflict arises as Jayla goes on a tear through the crew, overturning board games and yelling at deaf women in search of ingredients to cure Sunshine’s seasickness. The comic ends with Raven establishing a few rules for her ship: She’s in charge, the ship is a democracy, and Jayla will always be consulted on science matters. Essentially, Ximena has her own Spock/McCoy hybrid.
Quiet episodes are vital in action media, especially when they’re as well done as this. As I mentioned, all of the girls have a unique personality and are as well rounded as our main characters. And it never really feels like Whitley is checking diversity boxes, as there isn’t one action girl, one girly girl, one nerd etc. If you pulled a group of women out of the population randomly, it would probably look a hell of a lot like Raven’s crew.
This episode did some fantastic work playing with pirate tropes. While the captain’s word remains law in battle, as in any other naval fiction, the running of the ship is made a democracy. The comic makes a point of mentioning that this system stands in direct opposition to the male dominance of the kingdoms. It also takes a dig at how a pirate captain would address their crew, acknowledging that calling your crew “miserable bilge rats” might not be conducive to ship’s morale.
Plenty of little character moments, and Whitley’s trademark humor round out an issue that, overall, I enjoyed immensely.
Issue #6: The Island of the Free Women
a.k.a “Suddenly, I found a great use for that pig’s urine
It’s world building time! In this issue, we get a good look at the pirate end of the world as Raven and her crew enter Xingtao Market, a black market at the heart of this world’s piracy, established long ago by Raven’s Baroness ancestor. While Sunshine and some of the ‘less’ capable crew members stay on the ship to practice pick-pocketing, Raven and the rest go into the market to find ingredients for Jayla.
Their shopping, and visit with the local Gut Feeling expert (it makes sense in context), is interrupted by an errant blowgun dart that knocks Raven out. Subsequent darts take out most of the rest of the island-bound crew, and the comic ends with a mob of toughs marching onto the lightly-manned ship.
The action picks back up again this issue, but it doesn’t sacrifice any character work for it. In fact, the split up nature of the crew allows for a bit of character work for several crew members, as we see each of them react to the imminent danger. As well, the “main characters” of the comic get taken out quickly, leaving the less-action oriented side characters to save the day (eventually).
The one failing of this issue is in the dialogue. Jason Whitley’s dialogue has never tried to be “piratey” or fit a certain period, but in this issue sometimes the crew talk like a bunch of cosplayers and not as characters inhabiting a fictional world. The most egregious example of this is Sunshine’s repeated use of the term “grok,” a term coined by Robert Heinlein and commonly used in computer culture. It’s so strange, and so specific to our world, that it really pulls you out of things.
Issue #7: No Damsels
a.k.a: “I always kinda wanted to break a bone”
This issue’s story is divided in two as we follow the two established plot threads from the last issue.
On the ship, the outmanned (what), outgunned (what), outnumbered, and outplanned skeleton crew have to fight off the mob of vagabonds that have taken out their fearless leader. Luckily, a bunch of brutes is no match for Raven’s clever crew. Between Jayla’s chemistry, Sunshine’s cunning, and Gone’s…booknerd power, all that’s left at the end is a bunch of tied up men and a captain in need of rescue. Speaking of…
Deep below the Free Woman’s Castle, Raven, Katie and Co. are tied up and caged (even the characters can’t help but point out the irony of their situation). Surrounded by crocodiles, we learn the identity of their captors: Raven’s own brothers!
Another good issue that falls in line well with the rest of the series, the “background crew” continue their time in the limelight and it’s still a blast to watch. The different ways the girls use their talents to beat the bad guys are all clever and, often, hilarious.
The “dudes” themselves are pretty funny as well. They’re also seemingly complex for a group of men in a comic where most of the men, so far, have been condescending at best and creepy at worst. These guys seem (relatively) alright, with the only real misogynist among them being the unicorn dude, whom even his teammates think needs some social skills.
The only complaint in this issue is that it feels like the assault on the ship resolves a bit too quickly. I’d have liked a more extended sequence of action rather than a single fight below decks and most of the rest of the men disposed of offscreen.
Issue #8: Have Fun Storming The Castle
a.k.a: “Alligators are smarter than us”
The adventures in Xingtao Market come to a rollicking close in this issue. As the rest of her crew rushes to save her, Raven and her fellow captives must deal with alligators, ninjas, and a pair of rather camp brothers.
On the outside of the castle, Jayla and co. are working to break in. It falls to their deaf member Cid to come up with a plan that, unsurprisingly, is successful! Sign language saves the day!
On the inside, Raven trades barbs with her brothers as the cage raises and the alligators move in. Thanks to quick thinking and even quicker moves, the team is able to turn the tables on Raven’s brothers and almost escape on their own. Ironically enough, it is the outside rescuers who nearly blow the whole plan and when Ximena gets captured, Raven must make a hard choice.
Probably my favorite issue in this block, it does a good job of tying up the running threads while letting the adventure continue. It was smart to bring Raven’s brothers onto the scene, as it gives her quest a bit more urgency and gives the villains a “face.” Plus, they are set up in a way that perfectly opposes our heroes: cruel and pompous cowards who rely on women to defend them, women they dress in skimpy outfits “for the aesthetic.” It’s incredibly satisfying to see them lose, but an interesting thing was done this issue: Raven didn’t win without consequence. Instead, her on/off crush/girlfriend Ximena is severely injured by Crow as he escapes, and Raven finally seems to be facing the true consequences of piracy.
Raven: The Pirate Princes shows no sign of slowing down in these issues. If you weren’t hooked in the first few issues, though I don’t know how that’s possible, then this arc will get you. Easily combining action with witty dialogue and a good bit of heart, Raven seems to finally be finding its feet here and really beginning to live up to the hype.
Stay tuned next week for issues #9-12 of Raven as the first year ends and we find out the fates of Ximena, Raven, and the rest of the crew.
If anything in the above review interested you, you can pick up digital copies of Raven the Pirate Princess on Comixology , and collected physical editions on Amazon. If you’re already a fan, you can spread the word about Raven on social media and to your friends! Share this review with them! Review the book on Amazon or at other retailers.
Images courtesy of Action Lab
GenCon Report: IDW Isn’t Just For Comics Anymore
For years now, IDW has been publishing comics adaptations of some of the biggest media properties of today.
The recent runs of Orphan Black, Dirk Gently, and My Little Pony have all been successful in comics stores around the country. One of their original comics, Wynonna Earp, has even been adapted to a successful television show that many writers here at the Fandomentals cry over frequently. But they’ve quietly been making a play on the board games as well, adapting their licenses (and some new ones) into cardboard and plastic.
Previous successes include X-Files: Conspiracy Theory, Rayguns & Rocketships, and even a board game of Atari’s Missile Command game. I’ve been a fan of IDW Games since they came out with Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena, so I was excited to see what they had on offer this year. Luckily, I had the opportunity to chat with IDW Game & Event Marketing Manager Ross Thompson for the scoop on all of IDW’s newest games and for a glimpse at the near future.
Creative Uses Of Your Favorites
IDW takes pride in its games, which is clear in the enthusiasm Thompson shows when discussing the games. The staff of IDW Games doesn’t just make games, they play them too, and they put their love as players into the games they make. Whether it’s a hot license or something brand new, the team is dedicated to fun and immersive gaming on the tabletop. Their games help players relive iconic moments from their favorite series. This was shown in the new games debuting at GenCon as well as their newly announced games.
Gotham Under Siege is aimed squarely at my heart as an adaptation of what may be one of the best animated series ever made (and definitely the best adaptation of the Caped Crusader ever). The new game, designed by Richard Launius (Arkham Horror) and Michael Guigliano, is a co-op dice allocation game where 1-5 players take on the role of a member of the Bat-Family: Robin, Batgirl, Commissioner Gordon, the GCPD, Catwoman, and of course Batsy himself. The heroes must combat the villains and thugs who have overrun the streets of Gotham while handling new problems as they arise.
The game takes place across four acts, each of which is inspired by an episode of the first season of the show. Each player must use their character’s special powers to fight the crime that plagues Gotham. But there’s a decision to be made. Do they use their dice to fight the thugs and villains that infest the city, or do they use them to resolve special story cards?
The game features art taken directly from the show, but also supplements them with brand new art inspired by Bruce Timm’s iconic designs. Newly announced at GenCon, Gotham Under Siege will release later this month.
While the big focus at GenCon tends to be on the big multiplayer games, with the complex boards and the billion pieces. But there’s room for smaller games too, and Death Note: Confrontation is one such small game. Rather than the 4, 5, or 7 player games on offer at IDW’s booth, Confrontation maxes out at 2. Set at the exact moment where L and Light Yagami a.k.a Kira meet, each player takes on the role of either the quirky detective or the high-minded serial killer. It’s a battle of wits as Light tries to get his kill count up and L races to stop him. The game ends when either L gets enough evidence to find his target, or Kira gets enough victory points.
Death Note: Confrontation was released only last month for players aged 16+. It’s available in stores for $29.99.
Masque of the Red Death stands out amongst IDW’s newest offering, and not just for its beautifully gothic aesthetics. It also is unlike the other games in that is has no connection to a pre-existing property. Its genesis is unique as well, according to Thompson. The game was dreamt up by veteran designer Adam Wyse (Cypher, Gorilla Marketing) and pitched to IDW semi-informally after a game event. It sounded cool so they ran with it, bringing in artist Gris Grimly to do the art on his first full-length board game.
Masque was in our top 10 most anticipated games and just wrapped up its Kickstarter. I’ll have a full review of this game, with plenty of pictures and rule details, coming very soon to The Fandomentals.
Gaming In A Half Shell
It was hard to tell who was more excited about these TMNT games, myself or my host. Thompson was ebulliant when discussing the newest turtle games, describing how much love and fidelity to the original comics the new games have baked right in.
The Munchkin brand was everywhere at GenCon, with versions of it popping up seemingly every day. But IDW didn’t want to make just another Munchkin game, Thompson said. They decided to put a lot of work into their own version, with designer John Cohn making this Munchkin a much more story-driven game than we’ve seen previously. You don’t play as a generic mutant or human or monster; instead, you play as Donatello, Raphael, Casey Jones, even Johnson’s favorite Pepperoni, a baby triceratops adopted by Mikey who dreams of being a Ninja Turtle. There are villains to fight like Baxter Stockman (“as it should be”-Thompson) and other little references from across the over 30 years of TMNT history. But the love doesn’t end there. The game also features brand new art from the turtle’s co-creator and original artist Kevin Eastman. TMNT Munchkin releases at the end of the month for 3-6 players and will retail for $29.99
IDW also previewed their newest Turtles game, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, miniatures based game just announced from IDW. The game is based on the Turtles In Time games, with mechanics updated for the board game format. Players can play as characters from across time in a full out miniatures adventure similar to IDW’s Shadows of the Past game.
It wasn’t just retail-ready games on display at the IDW booth. They also had games in early development for a passerby to get a sneak peek at.
Following the success of their Perfect Cell game, IDW has confirmed that they’ll be following it up with two more games in the DBZ universe. Over 9000 will be the first, a card game centered around deducing your opponent’s power levels while hiding your own. The winner is the first player to get their power level over 9000!
IDW’s newest adaptation of Sonic is, naturally, a racing game. Up to four players race around the board to collect all of the chaos emeralds. The main attraction at GenCon was the beautifully made, full-color figures of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Dr. Eggman. The track builds as the game goes along so you’ll never have the same race twice.
Set to debut in February 2019, Crash Course will be a Gamestop exclusive and retail for $29.95.
IDW makes another play for us 90’s kids with a new board game starring all of the best characters from the shows of our childhood. Splat Attack! is a food fight game (sadly without food) designed by Jonathan Ying (Star Wars Imperial Assault, Doom The Board Game). Players take on a team of 4 characters, each with their own special powers, taken from Spongebob Squarepants, Hey Arnold, Invader Zim, Rugrats, Aaah! Real Monsters, Rocko’s Modern Life, Angry Beavers, CatDog, and The Wild Thornberrys. Players strategically throw their food to earn cool points while moving around the board to earn bonuses. But they have to be careful not to get too splatted, as when their splat board gets covered they are out of the game.
The new game reached nearly all of its stretch goals while on Kickstarter, which doubled the number of playable teams and added new items and goodies to play with. Intended for 2-4 players aged 14+, Splat Attack will hit shelves in November of this year.
IDW still has some tricks up their sleeve as the year goes along, and you can learn about all their game on their website. And make sure to keep an eye out here for reviews and updates on IDW’s hottest games, as well as my upcoming review of Masque of the Red Death.
All images courtesy of IDW Games
CW Taps Ruby Rose To Don Batwoman’s Red And Black
The question of casting has been up in the air ever since the CW announced that they were not only featuring Batwoman in this year’s Arrowverse crisis crossover but that she would be getting her own show as well. After weeks of speculation as to who they might cast, the CW has confirmed that Ruby Rose, Australian actress and model, will be taking on the role of Kate Kane for her upcoming television debut.
Rose first made her name as a VJ for MTV Australia after several years of modeling work. Her big break came in the 2014 short film Break Free, which she produced independently and went viral. Her acting credits include Stella in Orange Is The New Black, Wendy the service robot in Dark Matter, Ares in John Wick 2, and most recently as Jaxx Herd in The Meg. She also has released music and is a tireless campaigner for causes like veganism, climate change, and mental health.
Rose shares many characteristics with Kate Kane, including her tattoos and proclivity for short hair. She also reflects the casting call’s search for a lesbian actress to play Batwoman, as Rose is currently one of the most prominent queer actresses in Hollywood.
Rose’s casting as the CW’s first out lesbian hero comes on the heels of the announcement of its first out transgender hero, Nia Nal aka Dreamer, as actress Nicole Maines joins Supergirl’s fourth season. Batwoman will first appear in the big Arrowverse crossover with Supergirl, Flash, and Green Arrow this year and, should it get picked up, will debut in her own show in 2019.
Images courtesy of DC Comics and Lionsgate
Fantasy Webcomics Worth Reading
Greetings, readers of the Fandomentals. In the past, I have… well mostly complained about things, really. But we stick to what we do best, right? I have also introduced you to some things I enjoyed, and this time I would like to talk about some webcomics. Now, there’s no shortage of those, which means I have a reason I present you those three, specifically.
“Order of the Stick”
By Rich Burlew
Ah, “Order of the Stick.” This webcomic has been a journey for me. It might not be an exaggeration to say I wouldn’t be here without it… I certainly wouldn’t talk so much about tabletop gaming. But it hasn’t only been a journey for me. The comic itself has also had a wild ride.
You see, it began as a very simple affair, with one joke per page, and an audience consisting of about a dozen people on its author’s personal forum. But said author, Rich Burlew commonly called “the Giant,” wasn’t going to stop there.
The comic’s original focus was jokes about the 3rd edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The very first strip makes highly specific references about the 3.5 rules revision, which had just come out back then. Needless to say, those jokes don’t hold up very well today. The edition is still alive and played, but D&D’s mainstream face is the fifth one. This may prove to be a barrier for new readers, together with a very simplistic and crude art style.
If you can muddle through the old dusty jokes, though, you’ll see a story that unfolds from them. In a different sense than usual. Those characters were originally vessels for jokes, without any particular continuity or depth. When Rich Burlew decided to craft a story, he had to build it around these simple origins.
Roy Greenhilt, the team’s leader, was originally just a human fighter who had to wrangle five less-than-stable elements he’d been saddled with. Durkon Thundershield was a dwarven cleric and a (as the comic itself jokes early on) walking band-aid. Elan the bard was just dim-witted comic relief, while Haley Starshine was a greedy, sneaky rogue. Vaarsuvius was the model of an arrogant elven wizard and finally Belkar Bitterleaf the halfling ranger was a vessel for darker jokes due to his deep-seated issues and unbridled aggression.
In time, this rather typical rag-tag band of misfits received individual character arc that resonate on a deeper level and turn them into a more coherent team in different ways. The comic has always been a comedy, and still is, but it’s become more… elaborate in many ways. The writing, the art, the characters. It’s not just entertainment, but a way to make a statement. Fiction matters, as we like to say on this here site, and Rich Burlew knows it well.
Which happens to extend to issues closer to reality as well. The representation of some groups, notably women and LGBT folks, wasn’t always great. But in recent years Rich Burlew took steps to rectify that, citing that it’s his responsibility as a popular author in a genre that still struggles with the subject.
The two overarching villains of the comic (not that there aren’t many more) underwent a similar process. Xykon was originally just a lich sorcerer the party was out to fight. Now… well, he’s not really that much more. Rich Burlew deliberately didn’t give him significant depth. Instead, he’s just a terrifying unstoppable force. He’s incredibly powerful and has no hesitation about taking what he wants with this power. He’s the kind of villain you cannot reason with, convince, or shake up.
Redcloak is a goblin cleric who started out as, well, a goblin cleric in a red cloak, and Xykon’s head henchman. Since then, he’s grown to be one of the best villains I have ever seen. He’s a monster, make no mistake. He’s been willing to sacrifice everyone except himself in pursuit of his goals. But he was pushed onto that path by the callous actions of those who claimed the moral high ground. His entire story is a challenge thrown into the face of the D&D convention that would treat goblins and other such races as conveniently evil XP fodder.
“Order of the Stick” has a unique history that elevated it from yet another forgettable D&D spoof into something one of a kind. Reading it will be an undertaking, but one worth embarking on.
By Ashley Coope
This webcomic is far from your typical fantasy story, even though it might seem this way at first. At first, we simply see a girl with a tail and a man in a hood, traveling through the wilderness. The girl claims to have been sent by her father, a mob boss, to collect dues from her cousin.
If sending your daughter almost alone to collect money from criminals sounds sketchy as it gets… well, you’re not the only one. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The man accompanying her is Duane Adelier, a scribe who once held somewhat loftier titles in other lands. However, his past remains mysterious to us for many chapters.
He is also undead. That in itself isn’t surprising in a fantasy webcomic, but in the world of “Unsounded,” the only other undead we see are zombies—people call “plods”. They’re mindless, used for menial labor, and prone to all-consuming hunger. So why is Duane sentient and capable of speech—in fact, frequently incapable of shutting up for two seconds? That’s a mystery you’ll have to discover on your own as you read.
Duane is also a highly proficient spellwright. Why not wizard, mage, or sorcerer? Well, the world of “Unsounded” has a rather unique take on magic. The physical world is governed and controlled by a skeleton of sorts, called the khert. Spellwrights are people who can “plug” into it and give it commands, much like one would alter a computer program by tapping into its source code.
This gives magic, or pymary as people in Kassalyne call it, unique abilities and limitations. They can’t create or permanently alter anything, because the khert steps in and reinforces reality to its proper state. But, they can take aspects of the world around them, shift them, change them, focus them… it’s a remarkably well thought-out system that emphasizes creativity and intelligence. Which is a monster of a thing to get across in a visual medium, and yet Ashley Coope comes out swinging.
Spellwrights, I should mention, are not people born with any special gift. Anyone can become one, thought it bears all the difficulties that access to higher education always comes with. Ashey Coope isn’t afraid to portray a world with warts and all, where social inequity, political conflicts, and religious zealotry all rear their ugly heads. And pymary affects it as technology would, according to its capabilities and limits and filtered through all the other societal factors.
The world of “Unsounded” looks like your typical European(ish) (pseudo)medieval fantasy, but it’s anything but. Between the pymary, the metaphysics, and all the other factors, it’s something much more modern, but also unique. The metaphysics of the khert, souls, and memories play a significant part in how the story has unfolded so far.
But what does “Unsounded” even mean here? I’ll let Ashley Coope speak for herself:
“Something unsounded hasn’t been plumbed yet. You don’t know how deep it is or what’s at the bottom. It’s an unknown – like Death, like the limits of a man, like God, like eternity.”
Or use the quote from Moby Dick that she used:
“By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike. And all the time, lo! that smiling sky, and this unsounded sea!”
Like “Order of the Stick,” “Unsounded” may be a difficult start. Sette is a fairly odious person to everyone around her, and while there are good and altogether too real reasons for it, you may still find it as difficult to put up with her as Duane does. But I encourage you to sound the unsounded all the same.
“Daughter of the Lilies”
By Meg Syverud and Jessica “Yoko” Weaver
Last but not least is a perhaps less notorious comic about a girl with no face and some friends of hers. It starts in media res, with a group of adventurers hunting down some cave elves, who are cannibals, and as such not terribly popular with their neighbors.
Later on, we jump back a little and find out that the girl’s name is Thistle… but that it’s not her first name and for some reason or the other she only picks names of flowers for herself. She then changes them after having to run away. Yeah, let’s just say she hasn’t had an easy life and there are reasons she hides her face.
Fortunately, after some rough spots, her team comes to have her back. Said team consists of Brent, a mostly-human lad with orcish blood, Orrig, the most dad-like orc to ever lead a band of adventurers, and Lydia, a foul-mouthed elven martial artist and archer who’s about as far away from your typical dainty elven maiden as you can get.
The comic’s world looks much like your typical fantasy one, but there are some fairly real and modern elements cropping up here and there, apparently from the world’s ancient past. What does it mean? We don’t know yet, and even if we did, I wouldn’t spoil it for you, would I?
“Daughter of the Lilies” draws us in with excellent art, writing, and characters. One other thing that makes it stand out is its treatment of mental illness and trauma. Thistle is plagued by voices that, while they have a supernatural origin (or do they?), bear a striking resemblance to anxiety, depression, and similar mental health issues.
Without spoiling anything, she has also suffered emotional abuse from someone acting as her guardian. The way she deals with both this and her voices indicates the kind of sensitivity that comes with familiarity. “Daughter of the Lilies” is a webcomic with something to say, and it’s not afraid of saying it.
Images courtesy of Rich Burlew, Ashley Coope, Meg Syverud, and Jessica Weaver
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