Arc in Review: Princeless #1-4

Princeless #1

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Last week we published our commentary on the 2012 Eisner Award nominations, and I lamented that every year it seems like I never read enough books to know most of what’s up to win. As it happens, the author of one of the nominated books (several noms, actually!) saw the article and e-mailed me asking if I’d like to check out his work. Well, of course I would! So this morning I sat down and read the first four issues (the first story arc) of Princeless.

Princeless is an fantasy-action-adventure comic aimed probably most squarely at the witty teenaged girl set, though one can imagine it easily finding an audience outside that crowd. The book stars Adrienne, a young daughter to a king who’s just come of marrying age. As things tend to go in these stories, the king and queen lock their daughter in a tower and have her guarded by a fire-breathing dragon, waiting for the day her Prince Charming will come and save her. But Adrienne’s heard that story before, and she doesn’t like it. She’d rather cut a new path for herself. So with a little help from her dopey dragon guardian and some unseen friends, she bursts out of her tower and sets off to rescue her other sisters, currently also victims of tired patriarchal practices.

Princeless is a really accessible, attractive and fun series based on familiar territory but with a keen eye toward subversion. I recently saw and was thoroughly disappointed by Hunger Games (you can find my harsh critique here, shameless plug) and I sadly found myself unable to name an actually admirable young female protagonist newer than Harry Potter‘s Hermoine Granger. Princeless‘ Adrienne more than fits that bill; she’s twenty times the heroine Katniss Everdeen is, easily. Her defiance of her father’s wishes is totally bad-ass and relatable, and it makes for a really compelling character. Adrienne knows what she wants out of life — or at least what she doesn’t want — and she’s going to fight to shape her destiny.

Writer Jeremy Whitley’s scripting in these four issues is swift, action-packed and funny. It’s accompanied beautifully by Mia Goodwin’s emotive and fluid pencils. Goodwin especially excels at scene choreography; for folks with more mainstream tastes, the easiest comparison I can come up with is to Ultimate Spider-Man‘s Mark Bagley. Goodwin favors large, somewhat uncomplicated figures that will be familiar to fairy tale/storybook fans, and they only add to the inviting, fast-paced nature of the book.

But for me, Whitley’s script is the real joy here. It’s no easy task to turn in a genre parody that still has genuine characters in which readers are invested, but that’s what’s going on in Princeless. And while younger fans will probably be drawn to Adrienne’s quest unironically (why shouldn’t they be?), older readers have plenty to enjoy beyond that. The Eisner-nominated issue #3 is the best example of this; there, Adrienne attempts to purchase armor for herself and is offered skimpy variants based on classic female warriors — “the Diana,” “the Sonya” and “the Warrior Princess.” Adrienne wonders why she can’t wear armor that doesn’t accentuate her sexuality but instead actually protects her. Fair question (I did appreciate that, in a pinch, Adrienne temporarily chooses the Diana).

When I first spoke to Jeremy over e-mail, I warned him that I didn’t think Princeless could unseat Unwritten #24 as my pick for best single issue of the year. And, you know, I don’t think it did. But it came a lot closer than I would’ve imagined. Princeless is a smart, funny, great-looking and action-packed series. If I had a comic-reading daughter, I’d make sure this was at the top of her pull list every month. This book’s certainly deserving of its Eisner nominations, and if you’re in the market for a good fantasy tale or a truly strong female protagonist, it’s absolutely worth your time.

tags: jeremy whitley, mia goodwin, princeless

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