BADASS PRINCESS OF THE WEEK: THE STORY OF THE CRYSTAL SHIP

It’s been a long time since I did a Princess of The Week; a series where I look beyond Snow White and Beauty, to the Awesome heroines who are just as strong and adventurous as their male counterparts Last time, we looked at a dragonslayer and a woman who used her wits to become the Sultan.

This week- as part of the prompt of the day challenge (inspired by the theme of magic)- we’re going to look at The Crystal Ship, a story where a young girl travels to the ends of the kingdom to rescue her Prince.
Continue reading BADASS PRINCESS OF THE WEEK: THE STORY OF THE CRYSTAL SHIP

I HATE FAIRYLAND Vol 1-by Skottie Young

The humor around this centres on a bloody, cathartic subversion of the cheerful kiddie shows; a cute little girl entering the candy sweet fantasy world and hating every minute of it, before being slowly driven into an ax crazy murderous rage. With a premise like that, what could go wrong?

Well, quite a few things, but at the start, it’s pure comedy gold. We meet our heroine, Gertrude- our  Alice expy- getting sucked in to the magical fantasy land against her will. And the whole sequence is hilarious. The cheerful fairytal narrative playing which refuses to take into account the pain and misery that Gertrude is suffering in the panels. Gertrude is getting beaten, abused and sent into her own personal hell, while all the citizens of Fairyland smile, insensitive to her obvious pain.

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This is so deliciously cruel that it’s hilarious, and when we get to the breaking point where she blows the narrator to smitherines, it was hilarious. We see her get hurt and abused in this wonderland, the world that is usually fun and sweet actually turning into a groundhog day nightmare where she’s stuck there in child form for 27 years.

The artwork serves the story spectacularly as well. Young has created an incredibly cute, childlike asthetic that looks like every true fairytale land you imagine, so when the maiming does happen the juxtaposition takes maximum effect. We see brains, and blood, and cute little critters flattened in this bright, adorable artstle- it’s like if Nightmare on Elm Street took place in 100 Acre Wood.

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The problem is that after this strong start, things go downhill. The comedy relies purely on Gertrude being a jackass and maiming and everything in sight- which has potential, for a little while. With the right set up. After all, Happy Tree friends was funny, and Conkers Bad Fur Day had a similar concept of a crude, heavy drinking protagonist in a childish setting and was pretty creative, even if not always laugh out loud funny. But the problem is that the jokes didn’t have the right set up to land properly, and as a result the heroine is more annoying than the saccharine creatures she maimed.

At the beginning, we see Gertrude murder the moon (who is the narrator)The reason it worked when she shot the moon in the face was because our heroine had been pushed to breaking point: we’d seen her sucked into Wonderland, get continuously abused while a cheerful narration played, seen her trapped there for 27 years, all while having to listen to that same narration who’s insensitivity and lack of shits given about her pain made him seem sadistic. She was a woman on edge, and not only was this built up and cathartic, it was subversive because she’s not just saying ‘fuck you’ to the annoying creature, but destroying the forth wall and saying ‘fuck you’ to convention in a Deadpool and She-Hulk like way. The death was also extremely overkill and creative and a joy to read about.

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When she attacks the citizens of the town, she doesn’t have the same set up. The reason . In order to get to the payoff where blowing the citizens was justified, it needed to be set up; they needed to be annoying, Gertrude needed to be pushed to her very limit again. Maybe they could have annoyed her by singing cheerful songs at her, or constantly charged her with silly things like stepping on a crack or littering ala Demolition Man, or maybe she could have been lost and . But no: the reason they attack her is because she’s commiting a robbery- for no apparent reason.The creatures aren’t annoying and detestable, but just seem like perfectly nice, likeable creatures just trying to go about their daily lives, when Gertrude just randomly attacks them.

She’s senselessly hostile for no reason.In fact, she’s just such a two dimensional nasty that she’s actually a hundred times more irritating than the saccharine animals- she’s like that gobby 12 year old on X-Box live who has to be nasty and spiteful because they think it makes them look cool. I think Young is relying on our own annoyance with saccharine characters like The Care Bears and Barney The Dinosaur to make us hate the citizens of Fairyland, which doesn’t work. Even if you have analogues to existing characters, you still have to build them up and make them work in their own right.

When the Queen does send someone to deal with Gertrude, it’s because Gertrude is serial killer who’s committed mass murder. The Queen, far from being the antagonist, so far seems to just be doing what she has to in order to protect her kingdom. This could work if Gertrude was set up to bra villain protagonist and the Queen the real hero, but that doesn’t seem to be the case as it feels as if we’re supposed to think Gertrude’s reaction to this world is completely natural- which it isn’t.

VERDICT: Overall, I Hate Fairyland has an uneven start and is very hit and miss. When the jokes are properly set up, it’s funny, but other times it just relies too heavily on the image of a cute little girl maiming cute animals being inherently funny- which is great on a t-shirt, but to carry a whole series? Whether the series will find its feet remains to be seen.

CONTINUE OR DROP: Continue for 3 more issues.

REVIEW: THE RAT QUEENS VOL.1 : SASS AND SORCERY- by Kurtis Wiebe, illustrated by Roc Upchurch

Do you like irreverent humour? Creative action sequences? Great characters? Heroines who care more about marauding and fighting goblins than falling in love? A fun adventure? Do you like actual fun?

Well, if you answered yes to any of those questions, then Rat Queens is a graphic novel you need to check out.

The story is basically about a party of four friends who go on quests in an MMO inspired world. We have Betty, a tiny perverted Smidgen (a sort of tiny troll or hobbit) who’s funny, loves her drink and her ‘special’ mushrooms; Hannah, a gobby magic user with an attitude problem and an arsenal full of lethal spells and even more lethal comebacks; Violet, a rebellious Dwarf who’s trying to forge her own identity; Dee, a social awkward healer who comes from a culture who worships Cthulu-or as she puts it…

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As you can see, the art is amazing– I’ve read a lot of comics, graphic novels and manga recently, and honestly I can say that this has some of the best artwork I’ve seen- seconded only to the work J.H. Williams did on Batwoman and the work Paul Louise-Julie did on both Yohance and The Pack.

Everything’s bright and colorful in this graphic novel and the character designs are very distinct. This is especially unusual in a series with female leads.Usually, the artist can’t bear to make them look like anything other than his ideal of the perfect woman, and what you’ll get is five models with different hairstyles and hair colour. Here, however, we have this:

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Look at how different the heroines are from each other, with completely different different builds, face shapes, skin tones and expressions that tell you a lot about their character. And not only that, but all the expressions on the characters are really nuanced. Check out the look of love and vulnerability on Betty’s face:

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And this picture of Dee and Betty:

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You don’t need to read the dialogue-or know anything about the characters-to see that they are good friends;  you can just tell from that picture the level of playful ease Betty has with Dee, and the amount of affection Dee has towards Betty.

The story itself is very simple and easy to follow, which is exactly what you want from an introductory arc. With less panels devoted to explaining the convoluted mess  intricacies of the plot, more time can be devoted to what this series excels at: the humour, the characters, the friendships and the action sequences.

And are the action sequences excellent. The fight sequences are really, really creative and kinetic. I mean, just have a look at this page:

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It’ll use lines and colours as backgrounds to create the appearance of movement and then cut to a white or black background for the killing blow. This works incredibly well, and when the fights come the shapes of the sides of the panels themselves will become more diagonal and may overlap, giving the feeling of a world thrown into chaos.

There’s also a lot of creativity involved. As well as the fights, the humor is on target and it affectionately satirises MMO games- like how the poor citizens of Palisade and straight laced cop Sawyer (who is the traditional Lawful Good protagonist who has a sort of ‘dating Catwoman’ dynamic with Hannah), just want the town not to be destroyed by maauding questers. Even if you don’t play MMO games, even if you’ve at least heard of World Of Warcraft than you know enough to get the humor.

On top of that, we get to the real crown jewel of this series- the characters and their relationships. Even though it’s only the first volume, we have a reasonable idea of our central characters and some of their relationships. What matters is their friendship, which always feels realistic thanks to the art and good dialogue. They fight and bicker like sisters who know each other too well, but they also clearly love each other and enjoy each other’s company and always have each other’s backs. It’s so rare to see strong female relationships which aren’t familial, and a comic full of great female relationships is something special.

Another kuddos has to go the diversity. It is AMAZING.  It’s not often you’ll get important black or queer characters in a series (although both DC and marvel are both making genuine efforts to change that, what with Batwoman and the new Ms.Marvel), but here we have a black woman and a bi/ lesbian woman as two of our main four characters.

For POC, not only do we have Dee, but we also have the most prominent male love interest (who’s described as the most attractive by the other girls), a couple of supporting characters sprinkled about, but also Betty’s love interest Faeyri who appears to be Malaysian or from another dark skinned East Asian ethnicity. Speaking of which, Betty’s relationship is treated equally to the rest of the casts; the focus of the novel is friendship and adventuring, so we have a few warm, genuine scenes between them but nothing that encroaches on Romantic Subplot Tumour . And also, I like Faeyri’s design:

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I particularly enjoy how Betty’s interested in does have the short hair style and alternative dress sense that you see a lot of queer woman donning. Don’t get me wrong- there are a lot of bi/ lesbian women who conventionally feminine, and they’re great and it’s always good to see them in media, but it’s very unusual for a butcher woman to be the love interest, and object of desire. It’s great to see a tomboyish lesbian of color can be desirable too.

Honestly, with so much good, this I’ve already read this volume twice, and I’m delaying reading the third because I don’t want it to be over.

RATING: 5/5 stars

REVIEW: The Scent of Sunlight- by Annie Bellet

 

Single mother Queenie Hayes struggles to support her two young children and tells them stories of a world filled with sunlight instead of concrete, a world called the Veldt where magical creatures are abound and her family roams, free from the trials of the real world. As a social worker threatens to break apart her family, the Veldt offers her family a chance to escape if she can find the courage, and imagination, to reach for it.

The Scent Of Sunlight is one of the best short stories that I have ever read. Forget the sexy ‘strong independent sassy ass kickers’ , Queenie is a far more real and admirable woman than the legions of ‘grrl power’ protagonists who populate urban fantasy. Continue reading REVIEW: The Scent of Sunlight- by Annie Bellet

BADASS PRINCESS OF THE WEEK PROJECT–LOOKING AT THE ORIGINAL STRONG WOMEN OF FAIRY TALES

With the popularity of Tangled, Frozen, Cinderella, Maleficent and the long overdue arrival of Disney’s first (and the cynic in me suspects probably the last) black Princess in The Princess and the Frog, fairy tales  are as popular as ever.

And it’s no wonder; these tales have captivated us from childhood and stayed with us well into adulthood. There’s something about the sense of mystery and wonder, the crazy objects, the breath taking environments and the idea that anything can happen whether you’re a princess, pauper or knight that only fairy tales can create. And then there’s the princesses.

With the most famous European Fairytales being Briar Rose, Little Snow White, Rapunzel, and Cinderella, cemented in our imaginations by the early Disney films, we’ve come to see the fairy tale heroine of old as useless but pretty ornaments; ‘pure of heart’ (not morally good mind,  but rather sweet and inoffensive), with little going for them but their beauty and inexperience;the archetypical princess waits for her prince to save her.

It got to the point where Belle, (in spite of the fact that it was her sexuality, rather than her knowledge and intellect, that saved the day), was considered revolutionary just because she had a brain and some semblance of a personality. Princess Fiona’s random kung-fu was subversive because ‘Whoah! A princess did something useful!’

Everything about Peach pretty much sums up the archetypical princess
Everything about Peach pretty much sums up the archetypical princess

However, what if I told you that the passive, brainless but pretty ‘damsel in distress’ may be the rule, but  not the only rule? Even before Frozen, Brave and the Princess and The Frog came on the scene, there were lots of examples of strong and active women in fairy tales and mythology, who were accomplished, used their brains and even fought dragons?

To that end I’m going to begin ‘Badass Princess of The Week’ project, where each week I’m going to look at a different strong female from fairy tale and myth who proves that women were educated, active, strong and capable, way before Elsa, Anna and Tiana came along to redeem them.

BOOK REVIEW: Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories, Book 2 by Sakade, Florence, Hayashi, Yoshio (2004) Hardcover

This is the second book in the ‘Japanese Children’s Favourite Stories’ series, a compendium of traditional Japanese fairy tales shortened and simplified to the bare basics (and stripped of their more violent aspects) in order to make them accessible to children. This is the second book in the series, and though it repeats a couple of stories from the first book, the stories here are just as good as, if not better , than those of book one.

What appeals to me about fairy tales is the sense of magic and mystery they create. You don’t read  Grimm’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ for its interesting characters; you read them for their brilliant atmosphere- to feel like you’re walking through the castle frozen in time.

In this book, the environments are unique and fascinating; we visit underwater kingdoms (‘Urashimo Taro’), magical princesses (‘The Princess and the Herdboy’ and ‘Urashimo Taro’), what’s translated as ‘elves’ and ‘goblins’ (‘The Sandal Seller’ and ‘Why the Red Elf Cried’), and of course, benevolent dragons (‘The Dragon’s Tears’). These are very bare bones versions of the original tales, so not a lot of time is spent dwelling on atmosphere, but the strange worlds and devices that inhabit this book are engaging in and of themselves.

The sense of wonder is brilliant, and the feel and morality of the stories are different. We have the traditional trickster story of ‘How To Fool A Cat’; the stories where kindness is rewarded in various supernatural ways (‘The Dragon’s Tears’, ‘The Rolling Rice Cakes’ and ‘The Fairy Crane’); and we have  the ‘Princess and the herdboy’, which is the mythological story that inspired the Japanese Tanabata (star festival).

However, the crown jewels in this collection are definitely ‘The Singing Turtle’, ‘Why the Red Elf Cried’ and ‘Urashima Taro’. ‘Urashima Taro’ is the story of the man who visits the underworld Kingdom of the Dragon King (Japan’s answer to the world of ‘The Little Mermaid’ or Arabian Night’s ‘Gulnare of the Sea’). It has a great feel of magic and mystery, and its ending is deeply tragic without being inappropriate for kids.

There was also something quite funny about the titular sea creature in ‘The Singing Turtle’, while ‘Why the Red Elf Cried’ is a surprisingly moving tale of friendship.

Each of the stories are illustrated with a few simple watercolour images, which though aren’t stunning, are cute and lend this book a real Japanese feel and will help keep kids engaged.

This compendium of stories is a decent introduction to Japanese fairy tales for older readers, and presents a fun alternative to the usual Grimm’s fairy tales for younger readers. However, one thing that should be noted is that although the style is simple and engaging, the writing style can be a bit complex for especially young readers.  This is probably a book that is more suited to being read out to younger readers rather than being one that they read by themselves.

RATING: 3.5 magical moon bunnies making mochi on a mystical mortar/ out of 5

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