Comic Book Review: ‘The Courageous Princess’

The Courageous Princess, written and illustrated by Rod Espinosa. 3 vols. Milwaukee, OR: Dark Horse Books, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-61655-722-5 et al.

I am something of a fan of Rod Espinosa, a Filipino draughtsman, former submissions editor of Antarctic Press, and creator of Amerimanga, who has upwards of fifty titles to his name. Years ago, on my previous blog, I reviewed his Neotopia, Battle Girlz, Chronicles of the Universe, DinoWars, and the first volume of the series we’re about to discuss.

The Courageous Princess was Espinosa’s Eisner-nominated breakout title. He originally created it as a self-published, illustrated storybook, and then he converted it into a comic and released it through Antarctic Press. The series, still incomplete, was collected and published in paperback in 2003, and that’s what I previously reviewed. For a long period, the series remained unfinished as Espinosa worked on other projects, but he at last completed the story and released the entire series through Dark Horse in 2015, now as a trilogy of graphic novels. The original collection, which is now the first volume, has been subtitled Beyond the Hundred Kingdoms, followed by The Unremembered Lands and The Dragon Queen.

I like Espinosa’s work, and this now-complete series is overall satisfying, but I can’t help but think it’s a bad sign. Espinosa showed a lot of promise when Courageous Princess first appeared, but has not shown much development since. He has a tendency to squander his talent on derivative and gimmicky projects such as steampunked fairy tales or a Rule 63 version of A Christmas CarolI’m also beginning to see that even his original work is limited in range … like, I really enjoy that one Espinosa story about the teenage girl who is initially uncertain, but through her pure-heartedness and fortitude leads a motley band of misfits to topple an evil empire. Really, I do.

Anyway, the story of The Courageous Princess is a fractured fairy tale reminiscent of, if less zany than, Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles or the musical Into the Woods. The story takes place in the land of the Hundred Kingdoms, where characters from various fairy tales (and a few modern fantasy works) intermingle, though most have by now grown old and moved on with their lives. Continue reading “Comic Book Review: ‘The Courageous Princess’”

‘Cleopatra in Space,’ Volume 4

The Golden Lion (Cleopatra in Space, Book 4), written and illustrated by Mike Maihack. New York, NY: Scholastic, 2017. Full color. ISBN 978-0-5425-83871-9.

I previously discussed the first three volumes of Mike Maihack’s Cleopatra in Space, a space opera aimed at younger readers. Maihack originally began the series as a web comic. The web version stopped abruptly after bogging down, but Maihack rebooted the title as a series of graphic novels through Scholastic’s Graphix imprint. The web comic is not in continuity with the graphic novels, but Maihack suggests to parents that they could check it out anyway to get a good idea of the kind of material that’s likely to appear in the print version. Continue reading “‘Cleopatra in Space,’ Volume 4”

Comic Book Review: ‘Cleopatra in Space’

“But why are they in space? There’s no reason for them to be in space!”

Cleopatra in Space, written and illustrated by Mike Maihack. 3 vols. New York: Scholastic, 2014-2016.

We have before us a highly entertaining space opera swashbuckler aimed at a younger audience but also suitable for adults.

Author and illustrator Mike Maihack has worked on several different comics projects, including the webcomic Cow and Buffalo. He also produced an earlier webcomic version of the present story under the more facetious title of Cleopatra in SPAAAACE, which he halted abruptly in order to reimagine Cleopatra’s tale as a series of graphic novels, published through Scholastic’s Graphix Imprint. The stories of the graphic novels and webcomic differ in some details and do not overlap.

The series currently stands at four volumes, the fourth having released recently this year. I am here discussing only the first three, which are all I’ve got my hands on so far.

Continue reading “Comic Book Review: ‘Cleopatra in Space’”

‘Chaos Arena: Crystal Fighters’

Chaos Arena: Crystal Fighters, Chapter 1, written and illustrated by Jen and Tyler Bartel. Digital comic. Stēla. 2016.

This is a digital comic, new within the last few months, with a magical girl theme and an unusual premise. I’d like to be able to say more about it than I’m going to, but aside from its first chapter, it is, unfortunately, available only behind a paywall on the Stēla comic-reading app, which is available only on the iPhone.

I have an Android. So I’m going to discuss the first chapter (which you can read online for free) and say what I think so far, and then I’ll leave those of you with iPhones to decide if you want to shell out in order to read further yourselves. The Stēla people need to get their act together and port their app for the rest of us.

Also, you’ll notice I don’t have a link to Stēla’s website or the free first chapter. That’s because I read the chapter on my phone using the web browser, but now that I’ve sat down at my PC to write the review, I find that my anti-malware program has blocked Stēla’s site for malicious content. That could be an error on my end, or it could mean that the Stēla people really need to get their act together. Continue reading “‘Chaos Arena: Crystal Fighters’”