Sunday, April 21, 2024

Raven: The Pirate Princess is Back in Love and Revenge

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When you hear the words “fantasy tropes” what is the first thing that comes to mind? You might picture a wizard with a pointy hat, or a dragon squaring off against a knight on horseback. You might picture a princess in a tall tower or an evil tyrannical king. Fantasy stories, at least in the “sword and sorcery” variety almost universally feature one or more of these tropes. There is usually a brave hero or knight; whether he begins the story brave or not, it pretty much boils down to bravery. There is usually a wizard or magically talented person, either good or evil or possibly both. There is almost always a damsel in distress. All of these things are set in a pre-industrialized society that often mirrors feudal Europe. These are the very basic building blocks that make up most popular fantasy stories.

Enter Princeless, the comic series from writer Jeremy Whitley. Since it burst onto comic shelves in 2011, Princeless has taken trope after trope and turned them on their collective ears. That princess locked in her tower? She befriends her dragon and breaks out on her own. There are enough knights lying dead at the dragon’s feet to cobble together her own suit of armor. Meet Adrienne, the hero of Princeless.

While Adrienne is out adventuring and saving her many sisters from towers of their own, she meets another sort of princess. This is Raven: The Pirate Princess. From the 4-issue miniseries featuring Raven and Adrienne, Raven spun off to star in her own series. Like Adrienne, Raven is very much her own woman and doesn’t need any men to rescue her. She is on a quest to win back her pirate birthright, which was stolen from her by jealous brothers. Her father was the pirate king, you see.

Raven is different from the main Princeless comic in that it has abandoned most of the fantasy tropes and replaced them with piratey ones. Despite that difference, Raven keeps the metacommentary coming. The book skewers every outdated, sexist story trope it can set its sights on, while also commenting on the misogyny within geek culture. Despite this, it still manages to stay optimistic and funny and has tons of referential humor for comic fans.

More than that though, Raven is possibly the most diverse book I have ever seen. Raven’s ship is manned entirely by women, and it is about as intersectional you can get. There are all skin colors and body types represented, as well as sexualities, though all of them are cisgendered I believe, at least implicitly. The book is, especially in its second volume, more about relationships and respecting those around you as much as it is about swashbuckling and high-seas adventure. All presented in a fun and engaging story.

Raven has three collected volumes (12 single issues) under her belt, and in that time has gotten her crew together, been soundly defeated by her brothers, and regrouped from that defeat and is ready to set sail again.

And today, Raven’s next chapter begins.

Through the first three volumes, the subplot of Raven’s romantic feelings toward two of her crewmates has been gathering steam. In the new issue, some of that groundwork finally pays off, and…well, I won’t tell you everything that happens, but believe me when I say it was worth the wait.

Raven (and the main Princeless book as well) is a great book that celebrates women and girls. It manages to balance social commentary and just flat-out good storytelling in a way that will surprise and delight comic fans of all ages. Now that I’ve waxed poetic, let’s get the review started, shall we?

As we return to the crew, we’re immediately met with a light-hearted scenario where Katie, one of the crew ladies, nearly catches the ship and herself on fire while trying to make a meal. It’s not necessarily her fault as much as she’s not exactly used to ships and really needs to remember to cook in a ventilated room. But it’s super Trish to the rescue with both the ventilation and the encouraging pep talk.

But these are the charming moments Whitley excels at, and Pamfil’s art is a delightful addition, further highlighting how diverse this crew is.

While Trish wants a nice, friendly crew dinner, Dezzy has other plans. She wants nothing to do with the current situation, and storms out. You tried, Trish. Raven, in the meantime, gets the shoulder massage/head rub of her life from Ximena and she’s pretty much done for.

We are as powerless against head rubs as you are, Raven.

Up in the crow’s nest, Dezzy winds up with Sunshine, who is not exactly thrilled about the developments with Raven and Ximena. Feelings are just so inconvenient, y’all. But Dezzy is trying and listens to Sunshine open up about how much she likes their captain. Dezzy, naturally, has a scheme.

Said scheme is getting everyone dancing, namely Sunshine with Raven. Dezzy herself grabs Ximena, and the rest of the crew join in.

Well, almost all of them.

Amirah wasn’t born yesterday and sees right through Dezzy’s little plan. In a move that surprises absolutely nobody, Dezzy sidesteps the warning and oh look! Sunshine and Raven are off to the upper deck. They have something akin to a heart to heart, and then we get the big moment.

It’s picture perfect, kissing in the moonlight, with a moment so charged it seems like fireworks are going off.

… except that would actually be cannon fire. Sunshine falls off the ship, and Raven jumps in after her. Only to have a falling plank crack her on the head and knock her out. Let’s hope the rest of the crew is better at lifeguarding than these two! That’ll have to wait though because we’re officially at the end of this issue!

In all seriousness, if you’ve been waiting for a queer pirate queen with an all-lady crew who are all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds, this is your title. Go get it. Like, now. And don’t forget to check out our interview with Jeremy Whitley!


Writer: Jeremy Whitley

Art: Xenia Pamfil

Images courtesy of Action Lab Comics

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