Another week, another crop of the swashbuckling, lady-loving adventures of Raven, The Pirate Princess. This week, we get into Raven Year Two, subtitled “Love and Revenge.” There’s been a bit of a shakeup on the creation end as well, with Xenia Pamfil taking over the artistic duties from the more traditional team that worked on Year One. Some things are new, some things are the same, but fear not: everyone is still super gay.
Love and Revenge #1: Stitches
a.k.a “Sunshine, show them what you got”
We find out heroes in the midst of what appears to be some sort of pirate Thanksgiving as the whole crew gathers around the table for dinner. Even Katie has prepared a dish, some sort of green and odd smelling soup that everyone insists is delicious. But beneath the warmth and joy, there is dissension. The love triangle between Raven, Ximena, and Sunshine is still going strong. While Ximena gives her captain back melting massages, Sunshine runs out of the room to brood among the rigging. But troublemaker Dezzie has a plan. At the urging of the mischevious goth, Sunshine puts on her leggiest skirt and attempts to seduce Raven the only way she knows how: through dance. It seems to work, as the two kiss on the aft rail and Sunshine admits her feelings. But a cannonball, shot from nowhere, ruins the moment and sends Sunshine into the briny deep as Raven dives after her.
Not a bad kicking off point for the second year of Raven. The tension between the three romantic leads is well done, even if Raven’s mixed feelings and the ensuing confusion can be frustrating. This episode is filled with the cute little side stories where the series tends to shine, like Katie’s poor cooking or the continued flirtation between Zoe and Jayla. The one real problem with this is the art, which has flattened considerably compared to Year 1. While it captures wide shot well and Xenia is able to maintain dynamism, there are times when there’s cheating on faces or lack of detail that can be a little confusing.
The cliffhanger is effective at the end, doing a good job breaking the lull of things and getting things ready for the next comic.
Love and Revenge #2: Overboard
a.k.a “Get ’em, Free Women”
Finally, we’re getting to buckle some swashes! As Ximena fights to save a waterlogged Raven (who went under trying to save Sunshine), the rest of the crew prepare to fight the source of the mysterious cannonball from last comic: the crew of the weirdly named “Melancholy Johnny.” Katie takes the lead as the women, who have varying levels of squeamishness with violence, fight off the condescending and misogynist pirates. But this fight will not be the curb-stomp that past fights have been. Raven, Ximena, and Katie all take serious wounds in the fighting, and Raven is on the verge of losing her ship. But Katie knows a secret about Melancholy Johnny, and all might not be lost.
I know I harp on it but, by god, I want my pirates to be pirates! And I’m very pleased to see some hot ship-to-ship combat this issue. I love how the comic gives the women variable skill sets, with a particularly cool showing from ensemble dark horses Cid and Jayla, who use alchemy to do some wild stuff to the invaders. I also really enjoyed the fact that the ladies aren’t quite so invincible this fight. Yes, they were in previous situations, but they always felt like they’d get out of things thanks to their moxie. Here, we see them much more vulnerable.
Love and Revenge #3: The Ballad of Katie Kling
a.k.a “Get this trash off my deck”
The buckling of the swashes continues and I am here for it. The tides are turning as first mate Katie is able to rally both the crew and herself to fend off “Melancholy Johnny,” a man who rejected Katie from his crew for being “fat.” The brawl picks back up and the tide begins to turn. Even the nerdier girls are getting their licks in. It all ends when Katie gives Dana a pretty sick delayed vertical DDT straight onto his head.
I’m so happy Katie finally got a focus comic again, who’s status outside of the main love triangle means she sometimes gets shafted as a main character. She gets some good scenes in making her comeback against Dana, showing strength and cunning that she’s usually too insecure to remember.
My only real gripe might not really be one that fits with the tone of the book. However, it just seemed kind of odd how the book handles death. Despite the overarching villainy of the men and the fact that every character is…well…a pirate, there’s an extended scene where Helena angsts about killing an attacking pirate. And even though Trish helps her dispose of it, again like it’s a murder and not just self-defense, it’s still framed as a big emotional deal and not the national consequence of BEING A DAMN PIRATE.
Love and Revenge Issue #4: Stitches
a.k.a “Where did I get this fly dress?”
It’s aftermath time! As the crew licks their wounds and patches the ship’s various holes, definitely-not-girlfriends Zoe and Quin search for herbs to help Katie heal. While Helena, who’s blonde again after two episodes with pink hair, still copes with her first kill, Amirah tries to hold Dezzie accountable for Sunshine’s ostensible death. Cid and Jayla play matchmaker for Zoe and Quinn, orchestrating assorted “meet cute” scenarios for the two as the two deaf girls pretend to work on the ship. The episode ends with Sunshine’s funeral at sea as Raven, and her crew, say goodbye to their friend. But she isn’t as dead as they think. Where is she? And who is this strangely hot sea queen who has saved her life?
I think this comic almost seems to do action for the sake of these cool down periods. As the comic seems to be wanting to become more and more a slice-of-life comic, these pieces of relationship drama are where most of the writing effort seems to go. However, it is really nice to get proper focus on all the side characters as the love triangle is temporarily on hold. The sense of loss felt by the crew is well rendered, however, and the final ending in Not-Atlantis comes as both a shock and a great hook for the next issue.
I hope the ball keeps rolling for Raven, as the balance of action and soap drama seems much more even in these four issues. The drama itself is much more realistic, and it seems we’re finally letting the side characters shine a bit more. Getting Sunshine off of the boat actually opened up plenty of breathing room in the story as Whitley is able to avoid anyone being strangled with a red string.
But all is not quite rosy. While the already good writing seems to be honed, the art seems to have taken a bit of a backseat. While Year One had a team of artists, with separate inkers and pencilers, the rolling of it all together isn’t really working. Year one’s art was realistic, shadowy, and at times genuinely beautiful. There wasn’t much skimping on art and the colors were shadowed in a way that really gave scenes texture and characters an almost 3D look. The Year Two art almost looks like fan art of Year Two. It’s much brighter and much flatter, overall creating much more of a cartoon-y look for the whole thing that undermines some of Whitley’s drama. It’s not necessarily the worst art, and Xenia handles the action and splash pages with a good deal of talent. It just feels like it’s downgraded a bit from what we’ve become accustomed to.