Sassy, capable and world-weary protagonists are somewhat of a dime-a-dozen in modern, self-aware sci-fi which takes great delight, with common with a great many other genres in our hyper postmodern world, in subverting, dismantling and remaking traditional ideas of heroes and anti-heroes and the very idea of adventuring for a good and noble cause?
What even is a good and noble cause, anyway?
“They took her throne. She told them to keep it.”, the tagline of Vagrant Queen, released as a six-part series in 2018-19 by Vault Comics (and now, a new syfy series) makes it very clear from the start that this series fits snugly and with hilarious, all-knowing flair into this new tradition of bold and breezy storytelling with a decidedly disillusioned, world-weary edge.
Hell, forget just occupying the edge; Vagrant Queen, with its exuberantly cavalier tone and vibrantly-colourful artwork, courtesy of Magdalene Visaggio and Jason Smith (with colouring by Harry Saxon and lettering by Zakk Saam, sweeps its glorious way across an entire galaxy (not yours) in which humanity is rampant, aristocracy has fallen French Revolution-like to angry republicans bent on justice and fairness for all, and the Queen of our title is very much on the run from vengeful usurpers.
Much of this engaging series narrative joie de vivre, and it is considerable without once leaching away the story’s gravity through a tad too much flippancy, comes down to the titular character, Elida Al-Feyr, one time child queen of Arioppa whose family, until their unceremonious unseating, had held power on the planet and its surrounds for a thousand years or so.
While Elida was a fair and decent person, still possessed of a child’s unassailed ideas of fairness and justice, her mother and the court was not, holding fast to the idea that the order of things was that way for a very good reason and doing anything about was a recipe for disaster.
You may think that line of thinking was a little too self-justifying and you would be right, with the good ordinary people of the kingdom and a great many other opportunistic aristocratic souls besides (upset that more power wasn’t coming their way in the imperial scheme of things), taking matters into their own hands, storming the palace, looting fine and pretty things and … allowing, not intentionally, mind you, Elida and her mother to escape to parts unknown.
Elida thus becomes the Vagrant Queen, not princess, thank you, of the title, a woman who over fifteen fugitive lifestyle-filled years grows from a well-meaning but power-hedged ten-year-old to a feisty woman who spends her days hustling for power with traders on the shady side of the law in parts of space that aren’t exactly enamoured with power structures of any type, imperial or republican or whatever is the current politically idealistic flavour of the day.
As lead characters go, Elisa is an unalloyed joy, eminently capable with more than a touch of the Han Solos about her and certainly redolent of Mal Reynolds of Firefly – neither influence sits too heavily with Vagrant Queen very much its own cheeky, funny, captivating adventurously original delight – who isn’t interested in reclaiming her throne (see previously-mentioned tagline) and just wants to make a living and rescue her mother in a newly-hewn galaxy that seems little interested to leaving her alone to do either thing.
She and her mother, who is now in custody on the snowy prison planet of Wix – we first see the world in a series of three panels that is worth the price of admission alone thanks to a simple but enormously effective visual gag – have been pursued ever since they fled the ancestral palace by shuttle by the Marquis Ori-Bastra, a man who happily killed his own father during the revolution and is hellbent of proving he is a good and proper, aristocrat-killing republican.
A man prone to twisted facial expressions and a perpetually sneering sense of self-entitlement – you can take the boy out of the aristocracy but you can’t take the aristocracy out of the boy, it seems – he rages, rather comically and with amateur-level Bond villain flair, against Elida who regards him like an irritant, one who won’t leave her alone, fearful that her very presence in the world of living beings will be enough to undo the supposedly good work of the revolution.
The engrossing narrative of Vagrant Queen, hinges, as many a good adventure does, on the restitution of something, in this case Elida’s mother who remains trapped on the prison planet once used by her own regime and who Elida is determined to free as much for her own needs as a big “f**k you” finger to a regime she detests not because they took power from her but because they are so relentlessly, peace-snatching annoying.
She is accompanied by Isaac, a man she rescued from floating to death in space some two years earlier and with whom she has a fractious relationship, having been shot by him, although who shot first and why is the subject of ongoing, vigorous and bickering debate.
Elida also has Isaac’s ship, the Winnipeg – named after the Canadian city of course, no one can pronounce it properly in a galaxy where Earth is the stuff of myth and legend, its whereabouts, and thus familiarity with the pronunciation of its place names, lost to history – although again Issac disputes that it is her while she maintains she won it fair and square.
It’s all very Millenium Falco, Han and Lando, but not shamelessly, derivatively so, the garrulous back-and-forth between the two frenemies infusing Vagrant Queen with a world-weary hilarity, one where Isaac is indefatigably upbeat and Elida is very much “Shut the hell up and leave me alone, will ya?!”
Vagrant Queen an absolute riot of fun, managing like so many classic sci-fi tales before it, to tell a story which is cheekily funny but also redolent with meaning and emotional resonance, filled with characters of substance and need but prone to hilarious, deftly-executed dialogue and flair into the bargain.
It is the type of storytelling that is all swashbuckling fun but not in an Errol Flynn-esque kind of way, with humanity’s idealism and its flawed expression of that idealistic intent on full, beguiling display.
The galaxy is one in which you can dream big sure but it’s also one in which those self-same dreams may not deliver quite the way you expect them to, leaving you more than a tad out of pocket, existentially as well as materially.
As the two sparring leads in this soap operatic slice of fast-talking perfection, brought to life by artwork which is as extravagantly lush and flawed as its characters, Elida and the Marquis, who is at pains to point out that he has relinquished the title and dreams of imperial grandeur (Think he might protest too much? You might just be right), are the epitome of a changed world which may not be that transformed after all.
Certainly the events of the narrative would suggest that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and as Elida tries desperately hard and with robust, sigh-inducing vigour to escape this truisms messy fallout, it becomes obvious just how true this is.
Elida may have relinquished her claim to the old way of things but plenty of people either haven’t fully or may harbour a desire to bring things back to what they were but for their own, self-interested ends.
Vagrant Queen is self-knowing and historically well-informed, doling up a great big dose of reality to those who don’t know humanity’s propensity for doing the same thing over and over to always dubious results, with charm, hilarity and a bouncy sense of fun, armed with clever characters, sassy Indiana Jones-level dialogue and a thoroughly inviting sense of mystery and adventure that suggests that while Elida might be done with the world, the world is most certainly not done with her, and we, readers of this masterful piece of inspired comic storytelling, are all the better for it.
The six-part sequel to Vagrant Queen, Vagrant Queen: A Planet Called Doom, is currently being released.