Lady Castle is, for me, the first must-read comic of 2017. I don’t read a ton of comics, to be honest, and I’m pretty choosy about what I spend my time and money on, usually going for limited projects with women writers and artists and steering clear of superhero stuff. I’ve also, in recent years begun avoiding any of the trite ’90s-esque girl power stuff being put out by a certain breed of right on self-identified feminist white dudes, which has sadly left me with a medieval fantasy adventure comic-shaped hole in my life. Long story short, Lady Castle is exactly the comic that I’ve been yearning for over the last several years. It’s perfect and I love it and you should be reading it right now if you haven’t already.
Delilah S. Dawson has been on my to-read list for some time, and this was a great first taste of her work. Lady Castle is smart and funny, with snappy dialogue, but it’s never twee or precious. It’s clever, but straightfowardly so, which works really well to make the book great fun to read, especially in combination with Ashley Woods’ brightly colorful and crisp artwork. I’m not always a huge fan of this style of obviously animation-influenced comic art, but I like it here. Each character is recognizable and distinctive, and the style is a perfect fit for the tone of the story.
Probably my favorite thing about Lady Castle, however, is that it wears its feminism on its sleeve, but without beating the reader over the head with a trite message. The “what if all the men disappeared” set-up isn’t unique or groundbreaking in genre fiction, but the smart, incisive commentary on issues of gender, specifically the difference in governance styles between men and women, is timely and valuable. It’s a great piece of escapist fiction, and I laughed aloud more than once while reading it, but it’s also a book with some smart things to say about important subjects at the perfect time. This is exactly the kind of enjoyable feminist story I want to read to relax and distract myself from the ubiquitous ongoing coverage of U.S. conservatives working to destroy everything good in the world.
Faith had me at its gorgeous cover art, particular for issue two, which is so beautiful and so joyful that it makes me happy just looking at it. The comic itself is delightful fluff, not devoid of depth and meaning but bright and optimistic (yet without being Pollyannaish). I’ve never been particularly interested in superheroes, and the last couple of decades’ trend towards darkness, grittiness, antiheroism, and generalized cynicism has turned me even more off of the genre. In that landscape, Faith is a breath of fresh air that makes me wonder what else I might be missing by so completely avoiding super hero comics.
The thing that first put Faith on my radar was its titular character, who is a fat geeky woman—something that makes her a character very close to my heart. As I said, I loved that cover art, which does nothing to hide or minimize its heroine’s size, instead showing her as beautiful, strong and heroic, reveling in her abilities. I love how much space Faith takes up in these covers, and I love how unapologetically she seems to do it. They’re powerful images for me, a large woman in my almost mid-thirties, and they’re the kind of images that I’m glad exist for younger women and girls.
The interior art is similarly excellent. The artists are clearly unconcerned with making Faith conventionally pretty which makes her feel more real and gives the book a nice, naturalistic, relatable quality that supports its story of a young woman reinventing herself after some personal upheaval. Faith is also not sexualized, though she is sexy and at times sexual, and it’s refreshing to see art that is so free of any demeaning, leering male gaze.
Faith’s geek status is a major part of her relatability as a character, and it also makes the comic a bit of interesting meta commentary on comics, fandom, and geek culture in general. After some personal upheaval, Faith hangs up her cape (theoretically, anyway) and moves to Los Angeles to be a pop culture blogger before she’s forced by circumstance to put her costume back on and get back into the superhero game. It’s not unusual for superheroes to have secret identities, and even Faith’s job in media isn’t unusual, but her particular situation is uniquely and distinctively of the early twenty-first century. I have a feeling that, years from now, this is going to date this book, and it’s possible that it won’t hold up well to the test of time, but it’s a specificity that adds to the authenticity of Faith’s earnest storytelling. You can tell, both in the art and the smart, funny writing, that the people behind this book really care about geek culture and have a good amount of inside knowledge.
None of this is to say that Faith is a perfect comic. Mostly, it just can’t be all things to all people. It tries with regard to diversity, but the reality is that it’s still showcasing the adventures of a relatively privileged white woman. While Faith is wonderfully relatable to me (another relatively privileged white woman), she also highlights to me how much more and better diversity is still needed in comics, and in pop culture in general. Faith also doesn’t tackle any particularly meaty material; the total lack of cynicism in the book is nice, but some readers may find it too light on substance (though I can’t state enough how much I love that there’s nothing in the book about body image issues—that’s one tired theme I can do without forever).
Finally, it might be a nitpick, but I think also worth pointing out that the title of the comic, Faith, and some of the vaguely religious styling of some of the art (like on #2, where Faith has almost a halo and is surrounded by white doves) could be off-putting for some. While I generally don’t avoid everything with Christian overtones, I know that was imagery that gave me pause, even if I did find it pretty to look at. It made me unsure what to expect to find in the book, in terms of themes and messaging, mostly. As an atheist (albeit pretty lowkey these days), I don’t like to be preached at, and that imagery definitely gave me pause and led to me putting off reading the book for longer than I otherwise might have.
Still, Faith is a book that’s worth checking out, falling squarely in “superhero comic for people who don’t like superheroes” territory. It hasn’t exactly motivated me to rush to read more superhero books, but it has reassured me that there’s something for me in the genre after all.
If possible, I think I love Rat Queens even more now than I did after finishing Volume 1. Volume 2 addressed the few quibbles I had with the first collection, and the Braga special issue tells the story of one of my favorite secondary characters from the comic.
When I read the first volume, I lamented a little that there wasn’t a whole lot of backstory for most of the characters. A friend assured me that this was something I could look forward to in the second volume, and he was absolutely right. I won’t say that there was as much backstory as I could ever want, but it’s definitely enough to both partially satisfy my desire for more information about the characters and whet my appetite for the series.
The character who was least developed in Sass and Sorcery was Dee, and we learn a lot more about her here. What I love, however, is the way Dee’s background is revealed here, in slow stages, while continuing to maintain a sense of mystery about her. I’ve got a much better sense of who Dee is, but I don’t think we’ve got the full measure of her yet.
The stand-out characters here, though, are Violet and Hannah. Violet’s backstory is great, with just the right amount of humor, properly deployed to lighten it up. It introduces a couple of really excellent minor female characters as well. For Hannah, we get some of her personal history as well as some new information that helps explain her difficult relationships with secondary characters Sawyer and Tizzie. I love that we get to see a little bit of softness and depth for both Hannah and Violet, which prevents them from slipping too comfortably into any Strong Female Character tropes. Instead, and this is particularly true for Hannah, they are pleasantly complex, with sometimes surprising depths.
Unfortunately, this isn’t true for Betty, who remains woefully unexplored in comparison. Her relationship with Faeyri is touched upon, but overall Betty has rather little to do. I hope that means the next arc will include more of Betty’s background, as she’s a potentially interesting character who so far is still a little one-note which becomes glaringly obvious as other characters gain more and more dimension.
The Braga special issue is excellently done, and it’s refreshing to find a story about a transgender character whose transness is almost incidental to her story. I have a particular love for stories about orcs in general, and this one is wonderfully different while still being very classically orc-story-like. It’s numbered, so I’m looking forward to more Braga stories in the future.
I only wish I’d read this all in the same afternoon as I read the first book, which I highly recommend doing for those who’ve just started the series. Do it. Just read it all in one go. You know you want to.
So, there’s really no good reason I put off reading this comic for so long. I think I was just turned off by the word “sass” in the title of this first collection. I don’t think there’s any word used to describe women that pisses me off more than “sass” (or any iteration thereof).
I’m glad I finally relented and picked it up, though, because Rat Queens is fucking excellent.
The Rat Queens–Hannah, Dee, Violet, and Betty–are one of several groups of adventurers working out of a town called Palisade. However, we learn early on that not everyone appreciates what the Rat Queens and their fellow mercenaries bring to the town. When someone tries to have all the adventurers killed, hijinks ensue as the Rat Queens try to save the day.
In many ways, this series is a pretty straight forward sword and sorcery adventure of the R-rated persuasion (it’s very full of coarse language, sex, drugs, and tons of extremely bloody violence). However, it’s not the usual sort of testosterone-fueled romp one might expect from this genre. Which is refreshing.
Even better, it’s nothing so simple as just gender-flipping things and writing about a bunch of women who “act like men.” Rat Queens plays with a lot of the genre-standard tropes in really clever and extremely funny ways, and it also develops each of its characters with loving attention to detail and a clear commitment to treating them all like full human beings.
This is especially apparent in the artwork, which is consistently nicely done. The main characters are a group of diverse women with plausible body types wearing adventure-appropriate costumes that reflect their roles and personalities. This in itself is enough to recommend the book to me, but when you toss in a good sprinkling of visual gags and some excellently-drawn action–without any obvious fan service–I consider the artwork a home run.
My only criticism is that I actually could have done with a little more exposition about each woman’s background, and I would love to know a little more about some of the secondary characters, too. Some of this, I’m sure, is just because I’m used to reading novels, which have fewer space limitations than comics have. Mostly, though, I just really love these characters and want to know everything about them.
I guess I’m just going to have to hope that the series runs for a long time.
Rat Queens is exactly the kind of feminist comic I want to read–mostly in that its feminism is all in the execution of the work, with no preachy, ham-handed messages getting in the way of a good story, and no ugly, sexist artwork to get in the way of my enjoying it. It’s an almost perfect comic that I can’t wait to read more of.