Down From The Tower: Princesses on the Lam in Whitley, Higgins and Brandt’s ‘Princeless’ #1 [Review]

Colourist Ted Brandt sent me a review copy of the new volume of Princeless, previewed at Thought Bubble last year and out this month from Action Lab Entertainment. The popular series follows fairytale princesses as they move past the whole “getting captured a lot and having to be rescued” thing and onto a more productive “punching villains” phase. Written by Jeremy Whitley and drawn by Rosy Higgins, the second volume of the series launched recently, so I thought it best to have a look at the first issue.

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For this second volume, the book expands once more to add a new Princess into the mix. This is Princess Raven, who makes a particularly strong impact as the issue starts off with a cute opening sequence of her childhood and expands out into a decent take on the anti-princess concept. Whitley’s script plays into fairytales slightly, but seems aware of the current trend for blandly ‘strong’ female characters who don’t have anything else going on personality-wise. As such, he steers Raven away from the typical trappings of the fairytale princess and instead offers a hero who is an easily-distracted revenge-seeker, who has some hinted-at family issues and a highly-honed sense of sarcasm.

Her design is ace, with Higgins literally ripping up a dress to create something that seems more at home in Lord of the Rings. In fact, much of the book seems to owe a slight debt to Rat Queens, which Princeless both preceded and seems to be inspired by. The costume design leads the book even further away from the world of fairy tales and instead towards the fantasy genre, perhaps establishing a more grown-up tone for the series. Indeed, the three characters alone lend themselves to the world of computer gaming rather nicely, with one a knight, one an archer, and one a smith. Sort of.

The story takes a firm backseat in this issue, in favour of a character piece. Once the three leads hook up they head off and cause chaos and property damage wherever they go, bonding and establishing their personalities in fairly effortless fashion. Raven gets the most to do here, whilst the other two characters are largely a collection of quirks which only just start to mould themselves into full personalities by the end of the issue. I understand they were the stars of the previous Princeless books, but they do feel a little more thinly sketched here as a result, perhaps. Raven certainly steals the spotlight from them, at any rate.

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When I first read the comic, the colours were what drew me into the book. Brandt has to fill in a lot of background throughout the comic, as the fight sequences are typically drawn against a blank background, so his work is what propels the book along and gives it a sense of momentum. He tries all manner of different tricks in order to keep things pushing forward, and this ability to keep changing tactic is what gives the book a pulse. He establishes these huge, static, Disney-esque settings and then proceeds to fill them with energy and verve once the three main characters enter. The opening sequence, in particular, is very well done indeed, recounting a story from the past with a white fade around the edge of each panel as the myth falls out of time.

Probably because this is a second volume with the Princeless world, the comic feels incredibly confident. Higgins’ characters display only slight exaggerations, where most artists would probably go over the top. When they act with shock, their eyes expand slightly in size, their arms seize up, and their hair begins to stand on end – which gives the book a feeling of being a cartoon without ever betraying the characters. The world may be over the top and silly, but Higgins’ never displays that within the artwork.

That’s quite an important thing to note, as the main goal from the book is to give female readers characters to idolise. Quite clearly the book wants to create aspirational heroes and establish that girls can be heroes too. Taking the fairytale world and giving it a realism helps develop that agenda powerfully, and I would imagine young readers will love seeing these three girls – one black, one Asian, and one white – beat up people and have some fun. The action scenes, for their part, are nicely structured, if a little choppy at times.

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Higgins sets up the fight sequences panel-by-panel, with many movements taking two panels to complete. This slows the action down and lets it breathe, and readers can easily follow the heroes as they methodically take out their opponents one at a time.

Aimed at a younger audience than myself, Princeless seems like it does a fantastic job of giving us three fun, bouncy princesses who’re mugging their way through a new adventure. It’s PG-rated Rat Queens, basically, which seems like a thoroughly high compliment to pay the book.

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