We’ve come to the end of Raven: The Pirate Princess’s first run of issues! This week I cover the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth issues in the series. Next week we begin Year 2: Love & Revenge.
Issue #9: Raven’s Story Time
In this issue, Raven’s crew reacts to the aftermath of their fight with Raven’s brothers. While Raven deals with Ximena, a temporarily deafened Jayla has to learn sign language, Katie must learn to take charge, and Sunshine begins to deal with her own complicated emotions. While the more-able bodied crew plots a course for a “spa” that can heal Ximena, Raven keeps her company with a story from her family history.
The inevitable cool down chapter after an action-packed climax, we get to see relationships being tested in this issue and, largely, it works. At the center, of course, is the running tension between Ximena and Raven. Raven’s tenderness and worry really shine through despite the comic’s continued issues with inconsistent tone (having Raven give a big emotional speech and following up with “I’m kinda in love with you” bugged me to no end). However, a big chunk of this story feels just a tad wasteful: Raven’s story. While it’s a story well-told, it’s essentially an info dump on Raven’s family more than anything. It has some relevance as an explanation for Raven’s drive (although we’re reminded of that nearly every issue) and drawing a few comparisons to the current situation Raven finds herself in. However, the effect of such a large piece of story being devoted to a flashback story is that the side stories just don’t have room to work. I would have preferred the story to stay in the present and focused on Jayla, Katie, and Sunshine. It also just slows the story up considerably, meaning that the next few issues (as we’ll see) cover a weirdly brief bit of time.
Issue 10: Sunshine’s Secret Origins
The crew has reached the mystic spa that promises to heal Ximena, but first their leaders must parlay with the intimidating island guards. As Raven intimidates, seduces, and cajoles her way through a “no-pirates” policy, Sunshine is left to babysit her romantic rival, and she tells the story of her conception to kill time.
One comic with a lengthy flashback can be a problem, but understandable, two in a row just feels indulgent. And this story seems to have even less bearing on current events than the last comic’s diversion, though I suspect it will pay off as Sunshine develops in Year 2. The best I can tell is that it gives some insight into Sunshine’s romantic sensibilities and her own attraction to Raven. Sadly, it’s not quite enough for the story to really feel important when we could see more in the moment action and character work.
It is nice, however, to see Raven actually acting like a pirate. For a long time, she and the crew have been taking a “holier-than-thou” stance on things and it felt like the “pirate” name was just a fancy title. But this issue she’s in full Capt. Jack mode as she tried to convince the guards to let them on the island. It’s something we really don’t see enough of.
Issue #11: Earn Your Ex-Machina
We get to see more pirate/ninja/rogue work from Raven as she infiltrates the secret hideout of the mysterious “Lady” of the healing island. Through a combination of her own martial arts and a bag of tricks that includes flaming arrows and magic purple smoke, Raven is able to literally crash the party and meet Leilani, the possible-goddess at the center of the island. But before she will heal Ximena, Leilani has one demand: Raven must best her in single combat. But despite her kind appearance and feminine bearing, Leilani is not what she seems.
I’m just happy there’s no stories in this issue. Instead, we get more swashbuckling fun from Raven as well as just a little bit of moral ambiguity. Which is good because, y’know, she’s a damn pirate. Essentially, Leilani and Raven’s fight is a violent cross between “Won’t Say I’m In Love” from Hercules and a therapy session.
My only problem with this issue is a bit of a nitpick, but Raven’s pause to help a guard with asthma just feels kind of…weird. It doesn’t really seem like the sort of thing you’d organically come up with when writing a fight scene, does it? While the pause does justify Leilani’s mercy after Raven’s trespassing, there surely could have been a better way to go about it than “guard happens to react badly to Raven’s attack.” It’s an action comic, guys. It’s okay if the guards just go down and stay down if it can keep the story going, rather than pull the reader out.
Issue #12: A Weird End
It’s the end of the first run of Raven and things are…slightly quiet. We start mid-stick fight as Raven finally gets the upper hand on the previously untouchable Leilani. She forces the healer onto the defensive as she finally begins to admit that yes, she loves Ximena, and yes, it’s her fault the two were separated for so long. Back on the ship, Katie and Sunshine plan a dance party. When Raven returns with Leilani, the ship is overjoyed when the tall healer makes the comatose Ximena whole again. But the issue ends with two threads unresolved: Raven has still not admitted her love for Ximena, and Sunshine won’t admit her love for Raven.
I just really wish the cliffhangers here weren’t entirely romantic. While the love triangle is well written and I do care about the outcome, it just feels like a real blah thing to leave off for a hiatus. There’s not much danger or immediacy to these revelations, and there’s no sense that any outside dangers are coming anytime soon. Even a little flash, to see Raven’s brothers on their way, or a totally new threat on the horizon, would make the end hit a little harder.
In this issue, as well, Raven‘s tonal inconsistencies rear their head again. In the big fight between Raven and Leilani, the wise and knowing Leilani quickly becomes a slapstick victim as she begins to lose. Having her go from “I know the depths of your soul” to making goofy faces and cracking jokes is just…weird. It immediately robs her of weight as a character and makes Raven’s victory over her just a tad less impactful.
I really hope Katie gets her awesome bisexual dance party next season.
While I enjoyed parts of this block of issues, it really feels like a poor finale. Even if Year 2 is more of a continuation than a new “season,” there really needed to be more urgency and action in these finale stories to keep things going. As well, while I know it’s about Raven, you can’t just dangle these little side stories in front of me then deviate back to the main character’s story, especially when that time is filled with what essentially is filler.
And, I might add, this is still a pirate comic. I really hope we get to see more pirating going into Year 2. I’m a Star Trek fan, so I can appreciate a good piece of genre soap. But even the soapiest Star Trek had sci-fi adventure to go along with it, to justify the setting. I worry that Raven may get so lost in the personal drama that it forgets itself.
But we will deal with that next week!
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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