Smash the patriarchy!
That may sound like a militantly abrasive way to start a review about a graphic novel but truth be told, it’s the perfect encapsulation of Hannah Templer’s Cosmoknights, queer story about three women who roam the galaxy seeking to bring a feudalesque system that for all its futurist trappings in space is as steeped in misogyny as 14th century Earth.
In a galaxy where humanity has spread to countless worlds, all of the social progression of the 20th and 21st centuries seems to have vanished into thin air, and so, while there are rocket ships, advanced computers and the ability to do just about anything in ways that seems as advanced to mere mortals in the third decade of our century, there is also an entrenched royalist system which essentially places the 1% into an untouchable place far on a pedestal you could reasonably thought ceased to exist when people left Earth’s gravity and set out for the stars.
Alas, not so, my idealistic ones, and in the world of Cosmoknights, princesses are fought over on each each planet – you are not a settled world of any worth or standing without a royal family to oppress you, impoverish you and call your own – by knights who, if they win the tournament, which look like futuristic, giant robots jousting, win the princess’s hand in marriage (whether she wants that or not).
It is chokingly, enragingly backward and it has made two women in particular, partners in life, love and tearing down the patriarchy, Cass and Bee, so angry that they have set themselves the task of ripping this enragingly misogynistic system down one blighted tournament at a time.
Cass in the fighter, the one who enters the tournaments, and thanks to all-over body armour, everyone simply assumes she is one the entitled knights out to win himself the prize of marrying into a royal family, which, of course, offers a cushy life of privilege and enviable excess.
If Cass wins a tournament, she and Bee, who is the brains and organisation between their two-men liberation group, set the princess free in anonymity to live her life as she sees fit.
It’s highly illegal but it’s good and proper and ethical as they come, and due to some personal history best left to the reading of Cosmoknights, a life’s calling that neither women can easily out aside.
They know all too well that winning one tournament here and there, setting the princesses they “win” free won’t send the system tumbling into unlamented obscurity but they operate on the basis that each win is one chip in a wall that will hopefully in such a cataclysmically final way that it can’t be rebuilt.
On the planet Viridian, they run into some serious problems, the resolution of which brings them into contact with Pan, a mechanic at her father’s autoshop who longs to be involved in something bigger and better than the world universe she currently inhabits.
She is friends with the eligible princess on the planet, Tara, who most definitely doesn’t want to become some knight’s trophy wife (in the literal sense) giving Tara a very personal perspective on the injustices of the system Cass and Bee are fighting to dismantle.
A series of events sees Tara end up off world woth Cass and Bee, a wholly unexpected coming together that has some serious ramifications for all the women involved.
If this all sounds super serious, in many ways it is.
But thanks to some vividly zingy writing and expansively brilliant, worldbuilding artwork that pops off the page by Templer, a queer cartoonist and graphic designer, Cosmoknights is also a ridiculous amount of fun.
Think of it as a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down approach.
There are some serious issues being handled in the graphic novel’s narrative, and Templter does them real justice, exploring the damage that patriarchal systems, inequality of wealth and privilege and loss of family can do to a person and to society as a whole.
So far, so serious.
Thanks to the witty repartee between Cass and Bee, Pan’s innate propensity for taking to the man, or indeed anyone who champions unjust systems, and a deliciously space operatic feel to proceedings, Cosmoknights is also a story in which you can happily, jauntily, and with a great deal of pleasure, lose yourself.
Much of the pleasure comes from skilled writing, which brings a very heavy message alive in ways that feel relatable and understandable and deeply human, and artwork so lushly alive and colourful that it enhances its vitaly-delivered story at every turn.
Cass, Bee and Pan also beautifully, engagingly-realised characters who are real, passionate, deeply committed to their cause and grappling with whether what they are doing will actually make any difference in the long run.
Helping matters along is the way the story builds to a wholly satisfying cliffhanger – more Cosmoknights stories are on the way we are assured – where the initial narrative in volume 1 finds a resolution of sorts while another mystery unfurls, begging to be explored, and sending Pan on a mission to rescue someone she loves very dearly.
Cosmoknights is a brilliant piece of story building.
It carries a powerful politically relevant and socially important message which is told boldly, with vivacity, colour and fun, and which is peopled by characters for whom you come to care a great deal because they are so perfectly, energetically and lovingly brought to life.
The guts of the story might be deeply heavy but the delivery is winningly buoyant, making Cosmoknights one of those near-perfect graphic novels which is a pleasurable synthesis of spectacle, character, heart and soul and a sense of fighting back against injustice, which in our current unsettled times, resonates more strongly than ever before.