The Forgotten Queen
Ulises Arreola, Tini Howard, Amilcar Pinna, Jeff Powell
February 27, 2019
I don’t know a lot about Valiant’s established Pantheon. I’ve read some of XO Manowar, some of Archer and Armstrong, and I’m vaguely aware of some of the other titles, but beyond that I’m kind of a neophyte regarding the publisher. Consequently, the only information I have regarding War-Monger, the titular Forgotten Queen of this miniseries, comes from Claire Napier’s interview with author Tini Howard from a couple of months back. That alone was enough to pique my interest in the series, and having read the first issue, I can definitively say I’m hooked.
It’s hard to pull off a comic wherein the entirety of the story is setup; worldbuilding is a tricky thing to master without it feeling forced or exhausting. Howard is effective here though, jumping between the present day and the days of Ghengis Khan to tell both a sort of origin story for War-Monger and the story of her revival and return. In a tight twenty pages, Howard’s script has weight and portent to it; when the last page stinger hit I was equal parts excited by the story and dismayed there wasn’t more, which is the perfect balance to hit. The issue tells the story of War-Monger’s, or Vexana’s (as she likes to be called) work in helping the ascendancy of the Mongol Empire, an empire she outlasted, being essentially a goddess of war. She’s Ares, but a queer woman of color.
As a goddess, Vexana’s not really beholden to manmade codes of ethics or morality, and it shows; she’s immortal, she’s powerful, and she’s really just looking for something to properly entertain her. She’s given nothing in this issue that poses any kind of a threat to her, and yet she’s fascinating to watch anyway, a walking subversion of the traditional plot structure. There’s nothing for her to overcome here, no real growth, she’s just…bored, until that very last page. Because of the way Howard writes, though, I wasn’t bored along with Vexana; I could feel her restrained energy, like a coiled spring just waiting for a chance. Similarly, I can’t wait for the rest of this series.
Art duties are handled by Amilcar Pinna, who is turning in fine work. He’s adventurous with his composition, both in terms of panel structure and viewpoint angles. He plays with fisheye lenses and extreme foreshortening, he breaks panel borders judiciously; including a particularly effective example where Vexana’s feet land outside of a panel as she converses with the Khan; dust swirls around him but she’s untouched by it, as though the panel border itself is the divide between her divinity and the Khan’s mortality. It’s clever, thoughtful work, and it’s bolstered by rich colorwork that is not afraid to let men and women of color BE men and women of color. Choices like that are refreshing; more so given how often their opposites are made on other, higher profile books.
I’m told that color and lettering work is the responsibility of Ulises Arreola, and Jeff Powell, respectively. Unfortunately, I had to ask, as neither the review copy provided to me nor the website listing for the issue provided a name.Given how much care has been taken elsewhere with this story, that’s an especially frustrating thing to see in 2019. Colorists and letterers both are an important facet of making a quality book, and I can’t praise either if I don’t know who they are! Valiant says that “in the future, we’ll be sure to include that information when sending out PDFs that don’t have a credits page yet.” That’s good, but they should consider also listing those credits on their site. These folks are part of the team and they deserve the credit!
Forgotten Queen is a hell of a book. If you liked Gail Simone and Walter Geovani’s Red Sonja or Joe Keatinge and Sophie Campbell’s Glory, you’ll love it. It’s the same kind of energy, but moreso; Vexana has a unique sense of morality that is so far a delight to explore. The fact that she’s queer and built as hell definitely don’t hurt matters, either. Honestly the one thing that disappoints me most is that it’s only a four issue mini. Valiant! Put this team on an ongoing!