Saturday, June 18, 2011

Potholes In The Road: PrinceLess (Review)

The Info: Princeless is a graphic mini series (1st 4 issues arc to conclude by end of 2011). It is written by Jeremy Whitley, art and colours by M.Goodwin, published by Action Lab Entertainment in conjunction with Firetower Studios, Whitley's own independent small press.

It's about a female teen protagonist of colour and her adventures in a world where princesses get locked up in towers, guarded by dragons - a situation she is not at all happy about. She's out to save herself and her sisters. Thus, one guesses the name. PRINCE LESS.

Preview copies will likely be available for San Diego Comic Com (So late July). The book is aimed for distribution through DIAMOND, for pickup at local comicbook shops as well as conventions.

Note: I'm going to say right now, I don't think this review is going to be what the creators might have hoped it would be. Though I am still thrilled at receiving an e-copy to review.

As I Read It: My initial thought, at seeing the first page is - What?- Isn't this supposed to be about a PoC Princess? Then I read. Then I got to the second page, and felt an immediate bond. And then with each panel, I began to fall seriously in love. It was, a bit, like looking into the past and seeing a very obstinate, practical little me (or some of the people I proudly call friends) objecting to the familiar princess story.

And then I hit the word Moron and was troubled. 'Lower than normal princely intelligence' indeed. Smack of ablism right there. What if the Prince had been sweet and true and someone with a mental/cognitive disability? I'd have rather seen 'Foolish' used in it's place. Since what was implied was lack of sense and or self preservation and words have power and history, which the protagonist goes on to mention.

Wait, where did that Prince go? Did he get called mentally deficient, slurred against, AND get eaten? That's really disturbing me more than any speechifying about how FAIR (as relates to maidens and princesses) has meant WHITE of PALE SKIN and BLONDE HAIR, while using the word Moron. I'm not big on Oppression Olympics in my reading fare.

But I am further cheered at the realistic ick moment of putting on the belongings of dead - squishly eaten people. With the armor looking bitten and body fluid spattered. I'm not sure the intended age group for the comic; but the added reality, just applied as a practicality in the art, is a good touch.

Also? The toppled trope of bare-back riding made me smile.

Not making me smile? The appearance of the King. I understand the protagonist must think her father (and all men who set up this system of princesses in towers) ruthless - especially as they care nothing for dragons, like the one she's befriended, or the princes that get set up to conquer or get eaten. She's right in thinking it's a choosing system for a particular type of male as 'son-in-law'. It's not mentioned, therefore I'm hoping it's more implied later that Princesses do not inherit their kingdoms and this whole princess-tower-dragon deal is a way for their Fathers to find and choose an heir.

That said? Not everyone holding up a sexist system is a misogynistic asshole. And there are historic fear-mongering echoes in showing a large, brutishly drawn dark brown skinned man, both being an ASS and having his foot on the back of a terrified, subservient white man. Does Black & Deemed Ruthless have to look like a THUG? Like the reason white women clutch their handbags and pearls and cross the street - the buy in to the hype of 'The suspect is a black male, around 6feet in height....'.

And the use of the word 'Boy' by said thuggishly drawn black man in power.... Echoes I say, pushing the wrong damn buttons.

Really. Why is it white men can be smart, ruthless, or just perhaps callous, while also intelligent - be of all shapes and sizes, be ruthless in many different ways. But a black man, a deeply brown skinned man - to show him as 'powerful' only happens one way?

And ahh, there it is, the in universe note that he's searching for his own heir. Right next to the Queen being... 'Do you have to be such a brute, dear'? Given the system, it's HER kingdom he's ruling. She's the reason he has a kingdom at all. And she appears inches from implied domestic violence in how much freedom she has to live her own life.

AND, for extra measure; there's a black ruler, leader, obviously head of household scorning at implied gender performance transgression; Homophobia and transphobia in a nice little knot, out of the mouth of the unenlightened black man. He has 7 beautiful daughters, one we've seen as brilliant and there's a moment when he says he chose an easy dragon to protect her, that I thought maybe he's only going through the motions so she can rule through her husband. But a re-read of the line, makes it seem more like he's written her off and wants RID of her as soon as possible.

And now we swing back from my disgust to an odd conglomeration of gender conforming or prince conforming in this case; Princes have to look beautiful and effortless. And there's some class issues being sprinkled in as well.

Though I do wrinkle my nose at how the Prince figure gets understanding; you see his trials, his brainwashing, his pain and hurts and our PoC Princess is strong strong STRONG from the get go. So strong they could only manage to get her in a tower in the first place through TRICKERY.

And ahh, the prince who was called an ablist slur, has his sensitive side exposed, juxtapositioning the King-Father's thoughts on what it takes to be a true King.


So more downs than ups for me. Especially as I consider that in the tower, despite no longer having a mother to comb/wrestle her hair (while calling the portrayed, squee inducing, curly state as TANGLED), the Princess somehow has a smooth side pony tail instead of afropuffs or braids.

Other Thoughts: The sad thing here is that I approve and like the art. It's the kind that makes me think back to PBS story-telling or Reading Rainbow. It's art with a cutesy style, yes. But art with movement. The world is solidly alive. And the colours vivid (though I admit to having been dealing with some eye problems lately and having gotten a new monitor. So I'm not sure the colours I'm seeing are the actual colours. But even so, I'm captivated). My one gripe with the art is that I personally am confused about the real world equivalent heritage of the Prince. His skin is darker than some, and lighter than others who seem much more analogous to African Descended. I can't quite figure out if he's meant to be 'tanned / outdoorsy' or what. Actually right now I can't tell if the Prince who was slurred and the Prince at the end are the same; the eyebrows look different, the hair looks different, the skin shading looks different. Is the Prince at the end a forgotten Prince? And lighter brown skin or pale skin, having the King Ruler be a darker skinned brute with a boot on them, that impact isn't much changed.

Hope: I do not know if the next three issues have already been through the printer. If they have been, I can hope, perhaps that things get fleshed out enough to off-set the things I found jarring. If they aren't, maybe there's a chance for some changes.

I am strict in what media I consume. No more begging. No more taking hand outs. No more scraps of this and that, twisted perpetuated stereotypes. No more Oppression Olympics. But others may not be as strict or have the same social justice priorities - if so, with this review, they now know what they'd be getting.

Comments Open: You know the rules - civility, no derailing, and I don't publish fools.

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