Princeless Vol 1 by Jeremy Whitley
Art: M. Goodwin
I meant to read this comic book a very long time ago. It’s very good. So part of me is very disappointed that past me didn’t read it, and part of me is just very happy that I finally read it. (Thanks, ladies comic book reading club at the Comics Dungeon! PS: lady readers, if you’re in Seattle, you should join us.)
Princeless is one of those all-ages stories where the kids, parents, and childless adults all get something out of the story. And what we get may vary a little, but it’s still great. I knew going in that Princeless concept was to tell a different story about a princess. But Whitley is smart about his decisions from not making the book overly preachy to not making Adrienne, our princess in question, the only type of strong lady-type character presented. You can tell Whitley wrote this entire book out of love for his daughter and wanting her to see herself, a young black girl, on the page. Even if he didn’t say this in blurbs about it, the love he has for the story shines through on each page. Which makes this book impossible not to love in return.
Our setup is Adrienne’s mother, the queen, reading her a stereotypically fairy tale; one where the very blonde, very skinny princess is rescued by a prince from a dragon. Our first understanding of Adrienne’s point-of-view about this whole princess industry is her complaining about plot holes and other issues with the trope.
Of course, when Adrienne finds herself locked in her very own tower, guarded by a dragon named Sparky (from the dragon farm, of course), she stages her own rescue and escapes. We see her cut her would-be prince down to size and then steal some armor for herself. Not to mention, how much she loves her sword.
Instead of the book being about Adrienne and Sparky going on knight-like adventures, Adrienne becomes obsessed with saving her sisters from the same fate or before their would-be suitors arrive. (And Adrienne has many sisters.) We also meet Devin, her brother, and Whitley smartly uses him to comment on how toxic masculinity also reigns terror on boys who don’t fit the gender stereotype. Devin is soft-hearted, and we find he’s the one who gave his sword to Adrienne, because he’d rather not fight.
My favorite part is Adrienne’s friendship with Bedelia Smith, daughter of a blacksmith. Which their friendship ends up being a boon for both of them since Bedelia’s bored, Adrienne need armor, and they both need a friend. The scenes were Bedelia shows Adrienne the different types of “lady” armor she’s made, while bored, are very funny. They play on the classic tropes of comic book armorer ladies: Wonder Woman, Red Sonja, and Xena Warrior Princess. Like she ripped apart the fairy tale earlier, Adrienne points out all the inevitable flaws of Bedelia’s designs.
Then together, the girls design and Bedelia forges Adrienne’s new armor. Which is a wonderful design from Goodwin. Perfect for a teenage girl who needs some armor to fight in.
I also really enjoyed the bit about Prince Charming School for Boys. Again, pointing out that patriarchy hurts everyone. I also find this cottage industry of royalty that Whitley’s created to be endlessly fascinated. I have so many questions about dragon farms or how things get paid for or what the common folk do or about how Adrienne’s father and mother got together. And why wasn’t that the story being told to Adrienne to at least inspire her with a real relationship.
I’ll definitely be continuing to read this book and picking up the other volumes.
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