I grew up during the Disney Renaissance, so my favorite movies were Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid. While the princesses in these movies were stronger and more independent than earlier royalty, such as in the male-dependent stories of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, they are not perfect. Action Lab’s all ages comic Princeless takes the standard damsel-in-distress princess story we’re all familiar with and flips it on its head.
Written by Jeremy Whitley with art by M. Goodwin, Princeless follows Princess Adrienne, a black 16-year-old who despises the sexist traditions of the kingdom. She refuses to follow the same path as her sisters to be locked in a dragon-guarded tower to wait for a knight to slay the dragon and rescue her in order to be in line to be king. Unfortunately, her parents do not respect her wishes and Adrienne wakes up to find herself locked in a tower.
Determined to not just waste away waiting for someone to show up, Adrienne keeps busy by befriending the female dragon guarding her, Sparky, and writing in her journal. When she discovers a sword in her tower, things turn and she convinces Sparky to join her as she rescues herself and other princesses locked away.
In the first four-issue arc, Adrienne needs to remain out of sight. Her parents believe she is dead, and if they discover what she’s up to they will try to stop her from getting to the other princesses. This doesn’t mean she stays out of trouble, though; things just get complicated for her. Joined by her new friend, a half-dwarf blacksmith named Bedelia, Adrienne and Sparky set out on their adventure to prove princesses can rescue themselves.
Having a strong female character is not a new concept, but Whitley does a great job at making this story original. In addition to having the princess rescue herself, she’s also black, which is not common in a lot of comics for children. A lot of people are drawing comparisons to G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel with Kamala Khan, a Muslim teenager taking over for Carol Danvers. I love that this series has diverse characters for children to see themselves in and see they can be strong despite what society tells them.
When I was a little kid, I remember reading the same books over and over again. Over 20 years later, I can still tell you lines from The Pokey Little Puppy. If I have a little girl, I would love her to read Princeless over and over and carry the message that she can be in control of her own future and she can do anything she wants to do no matter what people tell her.