By Zack Quaintance — Xena Warrior Princess #1 is an exceedingly well-done comic from its start, owning what it is—an adventure comic of the highest order that must also pay homage to a beloved character—and reveling in it. Indeed, in this book the creative team of writer Vita Ayala, artist Olympia Sweetman, colorist Rebecca Nalty, and letterer Ariana Maher tell a concentrated and accessible story that grabs readers from its start. It beings en media res and doesn’t relent.
So yeah, you probably get it by now—this is a well-done and action-packed adventure comic. What of its titular character? What of the licensed property that has given rise to this series? Well, cards on the table, my familiarity with Xena is somewhat limited, as it is with the Hercules: The Legendary Journey television show that the character spun out of. In fact, I’d say my sum knowledge of both properties is essentially limited to spots advertising the shows that used to appear on UPN or the WB, or whichever network was airing them in syndication. I know, obviously, that Hercules is a character from the mythology of Ancient Greece, and that as the title implies, Xena is a formidable warrior princess. But that’s where my familiarly ends.
None of this was an obstacle, however, when it came to enjoying this comic. The narrative here does a great job of starting with an action sequence that does all the work it must to orient us to this world and its characters. We are in a fantasy land, there are bandits and other treats about, and Xena is a capable adventuring warrior who wanders about to stop them. It’s a great launch pad, and our broader plot easily takes flight from there.
I got the sense from Ayala’s excellent scripting that there was past history between the characters and some of the threats they faced, but it was hardly essential that I know all about this in order to enjoy the rest of the story. The first arc does such a solid job orienting the audience, that it makes up for any lost context later on. The story also uses one of my favorite tricks to engender reader sympathy—putting the children at risk.
Meanwhile, the artwork is more than capable. Olympia Sweetman excels at facial expressions and quiet, contemplative moments between characters. Her action sequences are solid too, but my favorite panels in this one involved scenes such as town meetings, or Xena and her lover lying together in bed, discussing what is to be done about the coming threat they face. Rebecca Nalty makes some interesting choices with the color pallette too, using bright hues to accentuate ideas of myth and fantasy that are inherent to this plot, rendering it closer to an older RPG than some sort of gritty blood-soaked brutalist romp. I liked that a lot, as I generally prefer my fantasy stories a little brighter (generally...cut to the dozen texts a day I’ve been sending to friends this week to discuss Game of Thrones).
Xena, though, is another great licensed book for Dynamite, a natural fit with the smarter storytelling we’ve been seeing from the publisher of late in everything from Barbarella/Dejah Thoris to Mars Attacks to Red Sonja.
Overall: A polished and well-told story, Xena the Warrior Princess #1 has much to offer, both for fans of the show and for newbies like myself. Ayala is a fast-rising writer in the industry, and the artistic team compliments the scripting well. This title gets a hearty recommendation. 8.8/10
Xena Warrior Princess #1
Writer: Vita Ayala
Artist: Olympia Sweetman
Colorist: Rebecca Nalty
Letterer: Ariana Maher
Publisher: Dynamite Comics
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.