Yo-ho-ho! Welcome back to the next installment of my Raven: The Pirate Princess reviews. If you’d like to catch up on things, check out my review here. And if you ARE caught up on the whole thing, check out my review of the newest issue here.
This week: we get to know Raven’s new crew, the girls go shopping, and toxic masculinity ruins the party again.
Issue #5: On A Ship, Every Episode Is A Bottle Episode
a.k.a “Listen up, you marvelous ladies”
After our first arc and all the dust has settled, it’s time to get to know Raven’s new crew. To quote Captain Abraham Smollet: ” Who hired this crew? This is undoubtedly the seediest bunch of cutthroats, villains, and scoundrels I have ever seen, so who hired them? ”
In actuality, we meet the diverse and interesting women who are helping run Raven’s shift. Sunshine, Katie, Ximena, and Jayla we already know, of course, but there’s not a single “extra” on the crew. There’s the deaf science-buff Cid, the fashionista Pirate (her parents thought they were cute), the sensitive and huggy Melody, and the sun-loving yet oddly pale Dezzy. Most of the crew bides its time with rigging races as Raven gets everything in order and Katie plans a sword fighting lesson.
The big conflict arises as Jayla goes on a tear through the crew, overturning board games and yelling at deaf women in search of ingredients to cure Sunshine’s seasickness. The comic ends with Raven establishing a few rules for her ship: She’s in charge, the ship is a democracy, and Jayla will always be consulted on science matters. Essentially, Ximena has her own Spock/McCoy hybrid.
Quiet episodes are vital in action media, especially when they’re as well done as this. As I mentioned, all of the girls have a unique personality and are as well rounded as our main characters. And it never really feels like Whitley is checking diversity boxes, as there isn’t one action girl, one girly girl, one nerd etc. If you pulled a group of women out of the population randomly, it would probably look a hell of a lot like Raven’s crew.
This episode did some fantastic work playing with pirate tropes. While the captain’s word remains law in battle, as in any other naval fiction, the running of the ship is made a democracy. The comic makes a point of mentioning that this system stands in direct opposition to the male dominance of the kingdoms. It also takes a dig at how a pirate captain would address their crew, acknowledging that calling your crew “miserable bilge rats” might not be conducive to ship’s morale.
Plenty of little character moments, and Whitley’s trademark humor round out an issue that, overall, I enjoyed immensely.
Issue #6: The Island of the Free Women
a.k.a “Suddenly, I found a great use for that pig’s urine
It’s world building time! In this issue, we get a good look at the pirate end of the world as Raven and her crew enter Xingtao Market, a black market at the heart of this world’s piracy, established long ago by Raven’s Baroness ancestor. While Sunshine and some of the ‘less’ capable crew members stay on the ship to practice pick-pocketing, Raven and the rest go into the market to find ingredients for Jayla.
Their shopping, and visit with the local Gut Feeling expert (it makes sense in context), is interrupted by an errant blowgun dart that knocks Raven out. Subsequent darts take out most of the rest of the island-bound crew, and the comic ends with a mob of toughs marching onto the lightly-manned ship.
The action picks back up again this issue, but it doesn’t sacrifice any character work for it. In fact, the split up nature of the crew allows for a bit of character work for several crew members, as we see each of them react to the imminent danger. As well, the “main characters” of the comic get taken out quickly, leaving the less-action oriented side characters to save the day (eventually).
The one failing of this issue is in the dialogue. Jason Whitley’s dialogue has never tried to be “piratey” or fit a certain period, but in this issue sometimes the crew talk like a bunch of cosplayers and not as characters inhabiting a fictional world. The most egregious example of this is Sunshine’s repeated use of the term “grok,” a term coined by Robert Heinlein and commonly used in computer culture. It’s so strange, and so specific to our world, that it really pulls you out of things.
Issue #7: No Damsels
a.k.a: “I always kinda wanted to break a bone”
This issue’s story is divided in two as we follow the two established plot threads from the last issue.
On the ship, the outmanned (what), outgunned (what), outnumbered, and outplanned skeleton crew have to fight off the mob of vagabonds that have taken out their fearless leader. Luckily, a bunch of brutes is no match for Raven’s clever crew. Between Jayla’s chemistry, Sunshine’s cunning, and Gone’s…booknerd power, all that’s left at the end is a bunch of tied up men and a captain in need of rescue. Speaking of…
Deep below the Free Woman’s Castle, Raven, Katie and Co. are tied up and caged (even the characters can’t help but point out the irony of their situation). Surrounded by crocodiles, we learn the identity of their captors: Raven’s own brothers!
Another good issue that falls in line well with the rest of the series, the “background crew” continue their time in the limelight and it’s still a blast to watch. The different ways the girls use their talents to beat the bad guys are all clever and, often, hilarious.
The “dudes” themselves are pretty funny as well. They’re also seemingly complex for a group of men in a comic where most of the men, so far, have been condescending at best and creepy at worst. These guys seem (relatively) alright, with the only real misogynist among them being the unicorn dude, whom even his teammates think needs some social skills.
The only complaint in this issue is that it feels like the assault on the ship resolves a bit too quickly. I’d have liked a more extended sequence of action rather than a single fight below decks and most of the rest of the men disposed of offscreen.
Issue #8: Have Fun Storming The Castle
a.k.a: “Alligators are smarter than us”
The adventures in Xingtao Market come to a rollicking close in this issue. As the rest of her crew rushes to save her, Raven and her fellow captives must deal with alligators, ninjas, and a pair of rather camp brothers.
On the outside of the castle, Jayla and co. are working to break in. It falls to their deaf member Cid to come up with a plan that, unsurprisingly, is successful! Sign language saves the day!
On the inside, Raven trades barbs with her brothers as the cage raises and the alligators move in. Thanks to quick thinking and even quicker moves, the team is able to turn the tables on Raven’s brothers and almost escape on their own. Ironically enough, it is the outside rescuers who nearly blow the whole plan and when Ximena gets captured, Raven must make a hard choice.
Probably my favorite issue in this block, it does a good job of tying up the running threads while letting the adventure continue. It was smart to bring Raven’s brothers onto the scene, as it gives her quest a bit more urgency and gives the villains a “face.” Plus, they are set up in a way that perfectly opposes our heroes: cruel and pompous cowards who rely on women to defend them, women they dress in skimpy outfits “for the aesthetic.” It’s incredibly satisfying to see them lose, but an interesting thing was done this issue: Raven didn’t win without consequence. Instead, her on/off crush/girlfriend Ximena is severely injured by Crow as he escapes, and Raven finally seems to be facing the true consequences of piracy.
Raven: The Pirate Princes shows no sign of slowing down in these issues. If you weren’t hooked in the first few issues, though I don’t know how that’s possible, then this arc will get you. Easily combining action with witty dialogue and a good bit of heart, Raven seems to finally be finding its feet here and really beginning to live up to the hype.
Stay tuned next week for issues #9-12 of Raven as the first year ends and we find out the fates of Ximena, Raven, and the rest of the crew.