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Vanquished: Weird Princess #1

Ben Smith, writer
Felicia Mars, artist

Vanquished is a story about the adventures of Princess Valorie who is rather determined to live life on her terms. Along the way we meet other colorful characters in this fantasy land of Valenguard some of whom share a similar philosophy to the princess’ and some others…not so much.

That sounds a bit dramatic, doesn’t it? Not to worry! Writer Ben Smith and artist Felicia Mars had almost too much fun in this first issue! With their dialog and art they’ve crafted Valorie to be an exuberant and spontaneous teen – ready and willing to leap out a castle window at a moment’s notice when a reminder about royal duty in the stodgy appearing form of loyal body guard Samil Ishkrim comes knocking. But Valorie’s madcap escapade doesn’t end there! No, no, no! Mars’ kinetic style and bright color palette amply illustrate Valorie’s lighthearted and determined attitude not to attend a war council at her father’s invitation. Little does she know she’s also evading a villain sent from a rival kingdom. In between Valorie’s scenes Smith and Mars introduce more cast members. There’s pacifist Shawn who sells wares at the city markets and lanky Nem, Samil’s gay brother. Nem has a plan and he needs Shawn’s help to pull it off. What could go wrong there? Valiant’s king is somewhat timid and apologetic, especially when it comes to their only child, while the queen stands firm on matters of protocol to keep the kingdom safe. What could go wrong there with the threat of war looming?

One of the primary challenges to storytelling is to transport the reader into its world and tell it in a way that they’ll find meaningful. While Valorie’s comedic frolic dominates this first issue there is more to her and the brothers Ishkrim. The most notable aspect of Valorie’s character is that she’s transgender. If you wondered about the curly braces in the comic’s full title (Vanquished: The Weird Princ{ess}) I think this was Smith’s and Mars’ way to pique curiosity in potential readers. Smith, who is gay, and Mars, who is trans, take an interesting approach of telling the story of Valorie’s transition as it unfolds which I think gave them opportunities to showcase Valorie from a place of wonder and joy. You know from your own coming out that the process usually happens multiple times as you decide who to tell and when. Perhaps I’m misreading things but this seems true also for Valorie with Samil being her biggest supporter (even if he lacks the language for now) while other characters are implied to be less in the know about Valorie’s truth.

The creators allude to issues such as racism and homophobia within some parts of Valenguard society. Having read the teaser description for issue #3 I know Smith and Mars will deal with the homophobia one of the characters and his boyfriend faces. Samil may be fed up with royalty and court matters if his comment that he can’t wait for democracy isn’t just frustration. Considering Valorie’s transformation leads me to wonder if Smith and Mars are setting her up to be the catalyst of positive change for Valenguard society. That would make for quite the heroic journey!

I enjoyed reading Vanquished and the love the creators have for Valorie is undeniable. The lighthearted tone and character driven focus of Vanquished should appeal to readers who’ve enjoyed series such as Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Unstoppable Wasp, Lumberjanes or other similar series.

You can find Vanquished as single issues and two trades on Comixology.

April 8, 2021
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