In a time of ancient gods, warlords and kings, a land in turmoil cried out for a hero. She was Xena – a mighty princess, forged in the heat of battle. Her courage would change the world… and the face of syndicated television.
Spun out of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena would go on to outlast the show that inspired it and leave a far deeper cultural footprint. Seen as a spiritual successor to Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman, the show was one of a rare few at that time which depicted women in the role of a warrior. It is also notable for portraying one of the first lesbian romances in television history (however subtlety) and for being director Sam Raimi’s most successful mainstream work up until the first three Spider-Man films.
Given that, it’s no wonder that Xena has joined fellow 90’s “girl-power” icon Buffy Summers in continuing her adventures through the world of comic books. Dynamite Comics has been publishing new Xena adventures since 2006, largely through miniseries and crossovers (including one with the film Army of Darkness), but there was one earlier attempt at a regular monthly series back in 2016.
Now, Dynamite is trying to bring Xena back and the results are… well, rather disappointing all around, I’m sad to say.
Let’s talk about what that this book does right, first and foremost. The story by Vita Ayala (Black Panther, Shuri) is engaging and action-packed and does a fine job of introducing the characters of Xena and the bard Gabrielle, for those who might pick this book up not having seen the original show. Artist Olympia Sweetman captures the likenesses of Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor well enough and the colors by Rebecca Natly are suitably vibrant throughout.
Unfortunately, there’s far more bad in this book than there is good. While Ayala spins a good story and has a wonderful set-up (with Xena being recruited to save a cursed village after a fight with some random bandits) the actual dialogue and sense of characterization is decidedly uneven. The whole thing comes off as a generic fantasy story rather than something set in the Xenaverse. There is also nothing of the usual wit and humor that made the show such a delight.
The artwork is a larger problem, with Sweetman having a poor sense of how to visually choreograph a fight scene. While this may seem an odd complaint given how cartoonish the combat in Xena usually was, Sweetman seems unable to decide whether to depict the characters realistically or not. Generally her characters are drawn in a realistic style, but there are some panels of people being hit with Gabrielle’s staff that leave you wondering where the little birds are, while others are vivid enough to demand blood-splatter. There’s also a lot of forced posing, including one panel where Gabrielle’s arm seems to have been drawn onto her shoulder backwards!
Frankly, I’m stunned that this book made it past an editor. At one point, the word “parish” is used in place of “perish” (as in “else we would all parish“) and there’s several places where it looks like the proportions of Sweetman’s artwork had been digitally altered, with hands that are far too large for the wrists they are attached to and necks far too large for the pinheads they support.
Bottom Line: I’m an ever loyal subject of the warrior princess, but this comic borders on being treasonous. Keep that in mind before you pick this one up, fellow Xena-philes and consider picking up the new Red Sonja series if you’re looking for a good blend of action and comedy.
Xena: Warrior Princess #1 releases on April 17, 2019!
Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.