Every now and then I fall out of love with things I’m very much in love with. Some times I just can’t bring myself to watch Korean movies or maybe I won’t touch that game console for a month or more. I suffer from the problem that I tend to overindulge on things, leading to me wearing that particular love of mine out, needing it to grow back.
In essence, this is what happened with comics. After having spent a ridiculous amount of time reading up on Marvel 2099, I simply didn’t have the energy to get invested in anything from either of the two major studios. That’s not me saying I don’t think they put out anything good, it’s just that their particular brand of comics tend to get old real quick for me.
And I tend to overindulge, doing silly things like reading pretty much everything they put out. I recently set myself the challenge of catching up to present day Marvel by reading from where Civil War ended. In case you’re curious, I’m currently in 2010.
But lately I have found that there’s another company worthy of my adoration. I’ve always been aware of other comic companies and at times even sampled some of their wares. But my focus has always been on the big two. Up until recently when I discovered Dynamite Entertainment.
Though it’s a very short time ago, I don’t remember how I first came across Dynamite. Judging from what I read first, it was either because of the Grimm comics, a tv-series I happen to enjoy a great deal, or their Flash Gordon comics. Either way, curious about their other works, I tracked down their site, hard work in today’s age, and discovered they had a huge library that appealed greatly to my taste buds. Their main bread and butter is taking old heroes that have fallen to the wayside or into public domain and dusting them off for another outing: Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, The Shadow, The Phantom and any number of other heroes have been revived through their efforts. Some you’ll recognize instantly if you’re older than twenty and others are downright obscure even to me, knower of unimportant stuff.
Needless to say, I was fascinated and pretty much all reading of Marvel material halted in an instant with only Agents of Atlas passing the muster for being read. So what have I been helping myself to instead? Well, the still on-going Doc Savage and Turok are great reads in their own right and finally managed to finish off my first exposure to Black Bat. But primarily on my mind lately is Damsels.
Damsels is the story of Rapunzel albeit told a little differently and perhaps a little bit more modernly than you might remember it. Here she’s an amnesiac woman out to find out the truth about herself and regain her former life. What she doesn’t know is that she’s really a princess who’s been replaced by an evil witch intending to take over the world. During her journey she finds other women in similar positions and a dark conspiracy starts to rear its ugly head. Soon they find themselves fighting not just for themselves but for everyone in the world.
Damsels was written by Leah Moore and John Reppion and the art was done by Aneke and covers by Joseph Michael Linsner (for the most part). It managed to reach 13 issues before coming to an end and has one spin-off and a one-off to its name to this day (more on these further down). It began September 2012 and the final issue was published in February 2014.
So, with all of those boring stats out of the way, what IS Damsels really? Without sounding too political, it’s a feminist empowering piece turning several classical fairy tales on their heads with women taking the more proactive role normally reserved for men. Gone are the timid princesses only there to be rescued and married and in are women who don’t take no shit from anyone. And, despite what some people may think or feel about the subject matter at hand, Damsels actually pulls this off really well. The change never really feels forced and the women are not the “I don’t need no man!”-stereotypes which pieces like this often falls back on. Instead the women all feel like actual people with wants and needs of their own. And not all of them are necessarily the good hearted women we often associate with these fairy tales.
All stories pick up after the fairy tales has supposedly ended. Rapunzel is already rescued from the tower, Sleeping Beauty has woken up and the Little Mermaid has already met her Prince Charming. But where they go from there is never certain. The Little Mermaid takes a particularly dark turn along the path and Rapunzel’s story doesn’t end where you think it might. And Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood… well, let’s just say they really don’t need men in their lives anymore.
Overall the first eight issues or so are really great. There’s a nice buildup of characters over time and you get a pretty good idea of who these people are and what their intentions are. The threat is ever present and the art does a fantastic job giving the world life. It manages to go through a number of famous fairy tales that all somehow manage to further the story and there’s a very witty but sardonic twist to all of them.
However, then the comic goes downhill. Issue eight is a definitive ending. The forces of good overcome the forces of darkness, Rapunzel gets her man back and they all live happily ever after. If you think that sounds like a spoiler then fear not for the comic continues for another six issues.
The vehicle comes to a complete stop and then has problems getting started again, having numerous false starts before simply giving up.
Warning, from here on out, there will be spoilers. Skip the next part if you don’t want to know the ending to Damsels.
It seems like an innocent page enough but it really is the beginning of the biggest sin Damsels could possibly commit: it ruined the ending. After issue eight, it’s clear they wanted to spin the series off into a completely different thing. Rapunzel leaves her husband after realizing she didn’t want him back after all and joins up with a cadre of witch hunters who think she’s totally cool. Talia (that’s Sleeping Beauty) and Red Hood decide to return to Talia’s kingdom and reclaim it from the surviving evil witches. The Little Mermaid is revealed to have become a servant to the witch of the sea. And the remaining Princes gather up an army to march on the witches.
And one of these tales will be the ending… pro-tip, it’s the one with no women in it.
Yup, Damsels completely shits the bed and discards all of its female cast for the final issue and the Princes are the ones who sort of saves the day… by nullifying everything that has come to pass, basically resetting the story to a somewhat happier one. Which is completely against the point of the series or at least as I have perceived it.
Instead, Rapunzel never goes on her big journey and instead has her “one true love” served up on a platter before her. A guy who during the course of the journey mostly took the form of an ugly frog man who fell in love with a troll woman and it was super duper sweet. And they never shared much more than strong friendship, mind you, so this potential love ending comes out of nowhere.
I have heard John Reppion say that it wasn’t meant to be seen as a romantic ending but rather two friends setting out on a quest again but that’s not what comes across. Instead, after the Princes have rolled time back to the beginning of the story, Heinrich (the frog guy who is now a handsome human again) and Rapunzel share a lingering look and then the story ends.
To be honest, I felt… betrayed. Like others have said, it’s not an ending and while others might not have taken it as hard as I did, there is a general feeling of “Is this it?” that sort of sets the comic way back. I do blame Moore and Reppion for this but at the same time I have to acknowledge that they ended it the only way they could. There simply wasn’t enough time or issues to finish the story properly when you suddenly drop three issues. And I imagine the ending would’ve been awesome because it truly was gearing up to something epic. And most of the pieces were in place.
But… what we got instead was disappointment.
Spoilers end here!
But that’s not where Damsels really end. No, we have more material to dig into, starting with Damsels Giant Killer.
Rather than a sequel or a spin-off, Giant Killer is actually a prequel, detailing the events that left one of the Princes orphaned. The story itself is a new look at Jack and the Beanstalk with a less than happy ending. Because we already know how it ends. But in true Damsels fashion, it puts a more feminine spin on the classic tale, replacing Jack with Jaquelin and somehow also manages to throw in a giant, magic-powered armor designed to slay giants… and it is awesome.
I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. It’s written by Moore and Reppion again but the art was done by Dietrich Smith this time around and I honestly think the issue is better off for it. Not that I think Aneke is bad and it could simply be that Smith had cooler stuff to work with but the art stuck in my mind far more here than previously. The only thing I’m not too crazy about is the cover by Chrissie Zullo… quite honestly, I hate it and thing it’s ugly but I’m sure it appeals to someone.
Other than saying it’s pretty cool, check it out, there’s not a great deal to actually say about Giant Killer. It’s one issue with a self-contained story that wraps itself up nicely at the end. A neat little detour thought it won’t last you long.
Now Mermaids on the other hand!
This time around, Damsels have been taken out of Mooreppion’s hands and given to Matt Sturges with art by Jean-Paul Deschong. It details the story of The Little Mermaid, now exiled from her home because of the events in Damsels (I assume but since that whole story was deus ex machinaed out of existence, I’m not sure when it actually takes place). Left alone on an island far from civilization, with only her broken and bruised heart as company.
That is until an exiled prince is left on her island and the two form an unlikely bond of vengeance and the mermaid dares to dream of loving someone again. But this is a tale of revenge, death, love and betrayal and there are no real happy endings. Only brutal farewells.
Damsels Mermaids, to me, is everything Damsels should’ve become after the eighth issue: a collection of short series depicting various fairy tales and legends told from a new perspective and with new, darker twists. Though, honestly, some fairy tales don’t really need much darker tones than they already have.
The art is overall gorgeous and the story told very well, leaving us in the same position as someone who can see the future but unable to do anything about it. The comic doesn’t hide the fact that the Little Mermaid is in for a rude, heartbroken end once again but rather lavishes in it. Her broken heart is the point of the story, to hide it would be wrong.
This story is also deeper into mythology than fairy tales, especially Greek mythology with names such as Atlantis and Scylla popping up during the journey. And the axis mundi play a major part in the story. That alone makes the story speak to me on a much deeper level since that’s lore that I know practically by heart since I was a little kid.
But there’s also that part where the mermaid battles sharks to save a little seal pup. That alone elevates the series above what Damsels managed. So much so that I would recommend this over Damsels.But a large part of why I recommend it is that the ending makes a whole lot of thematic sense. The Little Mermaid was never really a happy story no matter what Disney tried to tell us. It was a story about love and death, like so many fairy tales are (or rather were before they were made kid friendly) and that carries over to this story. Though it doesn’t share the story with H.C. Anderson’s original, it’s clear that they looked at that more for inspiration than the Disney movie.
I would love to see more series like this from the Damsels universe: shorter series that focuses on a single character or so rather than a huge, epic war that just peters out into nothing eventually. It allows for more precise story telling without having to fluff it up which I find is a perpetual problem with ongoing comics. Though I enjoyed the story they wanted to tell about Rapunzel after the not so happy ever after, it should’ve been reserved for its own, future miniseries. But that’s a soapbox I don’t want to get up on right now.
But would I like to see more from Damsels? Absolutely, as long as it’s more along the line of Mermaids rather than the core series itself (which I doubt we’ll be seeing brought back any time soon). A story revolving around how the Little Red Riding Hood came to be who she is? Absolutely. More stories about her and Talia as they first meet? Please, give it to me. A story about an epic war that never goe- NO! NO! No more of that.