Review: The Legend of Bold Riley

The Legend of Bold Rileylegendofriley
Leia Weathington
Leia Weathington, Marco Aidala, Vanessa Gillings, Kelly McClellan, Konstantin Pogorelov and Jason Thompson
Northwest Press

Last week, one of my very favorite shows of all time – Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra – returned to the airways for its third season. But for those who, like me, are still starved for strong heroines of color – the world of indie comics has another “Legend” to follow.

The Legend of Bold Riley, written by Leia Weathington with art by her and others, follows the title character as she travels the world fighting monsters, saving beautiful maidens, making love to beautiful maidens and then sometimes fighting the monsters disguised as beautiful maidens. She begins the story as Princess Rilavashana SanParite of Ankhala, beloved by her royal parents, but her love of history and fascination with the beautiful maps her queen mother creates gives her a restless spirit that drives her to leave her kingdom, where she finds adventure but also heartbreak. Unlike Korra, Riley’s culture is Indian-inspired instead of Inuit-inspired, and Korra has been portrayed as heterosexual, but fans who enjoy the animated star’s headstrong nature and drive for battle should easily find a place for Bold Riley in their hearts.

What makes this book really good to me is that it could have used the skin color and sexuality of the heroine as a point of uniqueness and then stopped. I feel like I’ve read a fair number of indie comics that try their hands at strong female characters but end up creating something that feels like a Kate Beaton-esque “Strong Female Character” or pair a decent character with a story that doesn’t resonate. But Weathington chose to write the six stories in the graphic novel as fairy tales, even beginning with “once upon a time.” Riley is often faced with a mystery that involves a magical problem and a magical cure, and uses both her strength and cunning to escape from danger.  This choice makes the stories feel both simple and yet epic, familiar yet original.

Weathington writes all the stories as well as draws the prologue, which is unique, colorful and establishes the world and the characters very well, but she’s ably assisted by many other artists. In “The Blue God,” Vanessa Gillings gives a cartoony and fun look to Bold Riley and her world, especially when it comes to her outfits. Jason Thompson’s “The Serpent in the Belly” was probably my favorite story in large part to his character, costume and background designs, which seemed to bring to mind Aztec art. I also loved his partner Vanessa Gillings’ use of color – mostly brown and blacks that made the little bits of blue and green pop.

Konstantin Pogorelov and Liz Conley’s work in “The Wicked Temple” was completely different, mostly squiggly black lines with light watercolors, and while sometimes the fight scenes were hard to follow, I loved it all the same. Finally, Kelly McClellan’s “The Golden Trumpet Tree,” a tragedy which closes out the book, has a style and a color palette that I would love to see in an animated cartoon. It’s so approachable, and I love how McClellan draws the facial expressions and Riley dealing with battle damage, whether it’s from literal monster bites or climbing a tree.

The only art I didn’t enjoy was Marco Aidala on “The Strange Bath.” The facial expressions are very strange on this one and some of the action scenes are hard to follow. Then again, the story seems like little more than excuse to get Bold Riley naked (although the story is used more for humor than the titillation it would have been under a less sensitive writer), so that might have prejudiced me against it as well.

Despite that minor complaint, this is a pretty collection of enjoyable fairy tales starring a unique heroine. While not exactly ending on a cliffhanger, the last tale still makes you want to see where Bold Riley’s travels will take her next. Luckily the sequel hit over double its funding goal on Kickstarter and began publication this year. Like the recent return of Korra, I await it with great enthusiasm.

Rebecca Henely

Rebecca Henely

A longtime comics fan and journalism major, Rebecca has previously written for Sequential Tart and weekly newspapers in New Jersey, Delaware and Queens. Her post-Lois Lane life involves pondering the intersection of low and high culture as she reads classic novels and watches RuPaul's Drag Race. Follow her on twitter at @quietprofanity.