Vanquished, as described by its writer Benjamin Smith, is an action-adventure graphic novel detailing the story of “a transgender princess’ quest to save her kingdom from evil, while dealing the complexities of coming out, hormone replacement therapy, and transitioning”. Valorie, the princess of Valenguard is a young, independent, progressive protagonist. She is skilled in the ways of combat, and is the target of choice of a blood-thirsty assassin. The comic currently has eight issues, with the story beginning at Castle Valiant, the princess’ home.
Valorie is one of the few multi-dimensional queer characters in media. Just within the first two chapters, issues relating to misgendering, dysphoria, and deadnaming are addressed. While Sam, a palace guard, is something of an ally, the Queen of Valenguard is overtly and unashamedly queerphobic. Due to the bigotry of the state, the princess is forced to muzzle her true self. Smith does an excellent job at creating supporting characters that have depth and complexity, and artist Felicia Mars brings them to life with her brilliance. The interpersonal conversations between the characters are eccentric and will hold your interest throughout. In fact, some of the dialogues almost feel like watching a sitcom.
Princess Valorie has a stark and interesting character arc, one that can be expected to resonate with young queers. She is a pacifist in the face of a kingdom eager to go to war, and refuses to concede to Valenguard’s ministers and army by performing her royal duties. She repeatedly escapes tactical meetings, stating, “everytime they have one of those meetings hundreds of people die. I don?t wanna be part of that.” The comic strikes a balance between the two extremes of representation, acknowledging that trans characters are so much more than just trans, while also throwing light on the experience of marginalization.
The art is cartoon-like and compliments the dialogue extremely well. The hairstyles and clothing choices stand out, especially those of the Princess. While most of the women and royals adorn bustle dresses and/or gloves, the commoners of the Kingdom wear modern clothing. There is lack of a central trend in fashion, giving the comic even more of a fantastical aesthetic. The artist also makes extensive use of shadows, especially in Chapter two. She takes traditional forms and infuses them with uniqueness and originality.
The bright palette and contrasts compliment the quirkiness of the characters well. The colours of Valorie’s wig and outfits are vivid, perhaps in order to accentuate her desire to distance herself from masculine aesthetics. It’s interesting to note that while hues of blue, purple, and pink have been most consistently used in contexts that Valorie perceives as relatively friendly, shades of black and green are used for the Queen and the War Room, where the Castle ministers hold their meetings.
The speech bubbles convey the playful nature of the dialogue, and the distinct shading of the panels helps the reader’s mind understand scene transitions easily.
Apart from Valorie’s own journey, there seem to be a number of sub-plots that connect excellently with the primary one. For instance, Valenguard calls in reinforcements by requesting the neighbouring kingdom’s soldiers, known as the Ma’pahs, who have been drawn with cat ears that just above their heads. Their captain, Joshi, is caught in a moment of intimacy with his lover and imprisoned for “criminal perversion”.
The comic entertains, tickles, and makes you think. It is easy to become deeply immersed in Valorie’s struggle as a queer person in the eye of a storm she seems to initially take too lightly. You can purchase a copy on Comixology and read more about each issue there.