“Damsels Don’t Wear Glasses” Is a Fist Fight In Hades

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Lave Faraday is a sword-wielding, hard-drinking, punk-rocking hired gun for Persephone P.D., tackling some of the most dangerous assignments possible. We’re talking demons, black magic, and secret cults. But now Lave faces her most dangerous challenge yet:

CHILD CARE!

Lave has been assigned to watch over new arrival Jacob D’Crux, a pre-teen trans boy that soon proves to be quite a handful. As if that wasn’t hard enough, a malevolent spirit named Aishe has shown up in town. They got a score to settle with Lave, and she’s going to need all the help in the world to send her new foe back to whatever hole they crawled out of.

Damsels Don’t Wear Glasses is the sole creation of J. Alice Bown, a webcomic creator from merry ol’ England. That explains why all the characters talk like “Oi, you wanker!” and “Good evenin’, Guvnah!” Okay, now I’m just exaggerating and probably also being a little offensive. My apologies, England.

As far as formatting goes, Damsels Don’t Wear Glasses has an excellent website that’s easy to navigate. There are tabs for each section. There are chapter summaries, an archive, character profiles, a gallery for fan art and guest comics, links to other comics, and a link to Bown’s Patreon. Everything is perfectly organized, but I do have one complaint. In the archive, the numbering is inconsistent. Some of them are comic pages, but some are not. While the non-comic pages are clearly labelled, they do mess up the numbering. I noticed this because the page number of the archive doesn’t always match with the actual comic’s page number. I sometimes lost my place because of this. However, it’s a very minor issue and doesn’t get in the way of enjoying the comic overall.

Damsels Don’t Wear Glasses is an urban fantasy comic, a genre that I love dearly. Arguably, it’s my second favorite genre next to Horror. My favorite writers in the genre include Neil Gaiman, Mike Carey, Bill Willingham, and Martin Millar to just to name a few. Coincidentally, some of those writers are well-known for their comics. It makes sense because what better way to do a genre that fuses old myths with modern settings than a sequential visual medium with no boundaries outside of imagination? DDWG fully takes advantage of the comics medium to tell its story through its stylized art, diverse cast, and unique setting.

The comic’s greatest strength is its art. First off, all the characters are uniquely designed. I mean, it’s easy to tell the difference between a man and man-sized bat, but, most importantly, character designs match their respective personalities. For example, Lave Faraday has big and messy red hair, wears mostly sports clothes, and has muscles of iron. I look at this lady and believe she’s a total badass. The style also has a clear animation influence that gives character a lot personality, both with facial expressions and body language. Sometimes the results are hilarious.

An equal amount of detail is given to the setting. Apartments, shops, parks, and other aspects of the city are fleshed out as much as possible. Heck, in one scene you can even see the veins of leaves. A very important element to this execution is the clear sense scale Brown applies to each panel, which is also a key element to her page layouts. The panels are stacked together, but not in a descending order or left-to-right with mostly same-sized boxes. Instead, they vary wildly in size and placed in dictation to movement, usually that of a character.

I think this is a good example. As you can clearly see, panel size is dictated by the subject of a scene, their placement in the setting, and to what action they’re currently performing. Better yet, the scenes are decompressed so that action unfolds with a sense of movement. I sometimes felt as though the action were happening in real time. Where in another comic this kind of layout might turn into a chaotic mess, Bown maintains a clear vision because of how much she pays attention to every single detail.

Probably the most detail is given to the color palette. It’s crazy! Like a paintball battle held in a fun house while all the participants are high on acid. Okay, that might be hyperbolic, but also just look at this.

This is some eye-catching color choices. For a series full of magic, I appreciate how there is the presence of colors that are psychedelic and mystical to match that element. Just about every page I read, I find myself wide-eyed and mesmerized. It’s up there with other psychedelic comics like Numb and Soul To Call. These are comics that know the medium isn’t restricted to realism and find endless ways to make a page memorable.

Another aspect of the art I love, and one that I feel is sorely neglected in most comics, is the lettering. Much like everything else, Bown takes great pains to put a lot of detail in it. Some of it is what you might expect, such as making a big bad villain’s lettering as spooky and intimidating as possible. However, there is also a lot of experimentation, such as this scene where Lave is on a phone with a friend.  Notice how it goes from one page where the letters are as big as the person on the other end is shouting to the other page where the balloons are like clouds:

It’s moments like this where I can remember the lettering as much as anything else in the comic. That’s because it has just as much character as anything else in the comic. The best way I can summarize what is so good about the art is style. In each chapter, and practically each page, Bown finds unique ways to make every aspect of the comic memorable. Whether it be character design, panel layout, color palette, or lettering. Everything coalesces into a gallery of visual wonders that are like a Russell Mulcahy film dipped in Rebecca Sugar paints and crackling with the energy of a heavy metal concert.

I should warn readers that in Chapter One, from about pages 23 to 30-something, the quality of art drops dramatically. It’s like paper cutouts trying to perform ballet. That’s because these are pages from Bown’s previous art style, and she has been re-editing to reflect her current style. I admire just how much Brown has approved. It’s a testament to her persistence in craft.

The cast of Damsels Don’t Wear Glasses is a delightfully diverse collection of weirdos who you’ll love instantly. Lave is an absolute badass, skilled in hand-to-hand combat and sword-wielding. She’s also a hot mess, both impulsive and scatter-brained. Lave essentially has the skills of Buffy Summers but the lifestyle of John Constantine. It’s a wonder she is assigned to be Jacob’s caregiver.

Jacob D’Crux is the secondary main character. He is a Hispanic trans boy new to the city, and for some reason many readers seem to view Jacob as a pain in the ass. It’s true, Jacob is defiant and often acts in irrational, but the implication is that Jacob is recently deceased and unfamiliar with this world. Just imagine being so young, away from your home, and in a strange city full of stranger beings. That would make any kid guarded and jumpy as hell. Personally, I think people are misreading Jacob and not understanding how his reactions are only natural to his situation.

Although Lave and Jacob often, and hilariously, bump heads a lot, you do see a relationship naturally growing between the two. Amidst all the action and scares, the two have enduring moments despite their differences. One thing they do have in common are secrets. What is that mysterious wound on Lave’s shoulder? What is that broken monocle Jacob carries around with him? The search for these answers and budding relationship between the two keep you invested in them.

Other significant characters include Chiro, a man-sized bat who is also Lave’s roommate. He doesn’t talk is mostly gets into slapstick arguments with Lave, kind of like his Moe to her Curly Joe. There is also Kestrel Wylde, the wannabe necromancer Lave meets in Chapter One. Kestrel is full of pride, and yet he is a bumbling coward; more Ward Rackley than Aleister Crowley. Finally, there is Aishe, the mysterious foe. Not much is known about them or why they even have beef with Lave. Currently, they’re mostly your typical cunning villain that loves plotting, scheming, and going into monologues about just how much a genius they are.

Honestly, all these characters are still taking time to develop, so I can’t read them beyond a surface level. I can say that they’re immediately appealing with their quirks and uniqueness. The shenanigans they get up to throughout the city is fun to watch, and all the interesting plot threads developing around them will keep you reading to see what happens next.

In urban fantasy, there is usually two types of settings: Our modern world with a secret society hidden beneath it, or a fantasy realm where the modern elements are incorporated with the mythical ones. Choosing either setting usually depends on if the fantasy part is considered normal or not. In Damsels Don’t Wear Glasses, it is the norm. The city is a modern interpretation of Hades, the Greek afterlife. This fact is never stated outright to the reader, but instead offers visual clues and dialogue that make it obvious. Probably the most obvious is Lave’s favorite catchphrase:

I personally prefer that approach because info dumps are my least favorite way of in parting knowledge to a reader. Sure, I can understand that sometimes there’s just no other way, but if a storyteller can find a more natural technique that trusts the reader to be intuitive, it’ll read a lot better. And, like I said, Bown uses a lot off visual and dialogue clues that inform you of where the story takes place. In fact, those visual clues are what give the setting its unique look.

When creating an urban fantasy setting, if you fail to make your setting look like anything other than a generic city, you’ve failed. DDWG doesn’t have that problem. Architectural decorations, paintings, statues, and, even weird, symbolic non-sequiturs give the setting plenty of uniqueness. It also helps that we experience the city through the eyes of Lave, a resident. She allows the reader to get to know the city on a more personal level, to see all the unique crooks and crannies that reveal a lot more than the narrative equivalent of a vacation brochure.

The reader also gets to see the many unique species that live in the city. Most are from Greek mythology, such as Satyrs, Minotaurs, and Lamias. Some are not, such as the Spriggans who are from Cornish folklore. That did have me question if this was Hades, or at least the traditional Greek interpretation of it, although I still think it is the latter until proven otherwise. The only species whose origins I am unsure of are the Unsee, a group of spirits that appear as hooded figures wearing masks. What I know mostly of the Unsee—and other aspects of the city—is from one of the profiles Bown writes at the end of each chapter. By the way, this is another method of in parting information to the reader that I think works well.

Another important aspect to the comics’ world-building is the magic system. There is a large variety of magic types that exist within Damsels Don’t Wear Glasses. Necromancy, teleportation, etc. Some of these have ties to Greek culture, but more often it’s up in the air. It’s sort of like Hellblazer where magic is a multifarious element that takes shape according to what immediate purpose it’s needed for. For example, this page where Chiro uses his blood scent power to track down a missing person.

That said, the magic system isn’t complete Deus ex Machina. There are certain rules and restrictions. The most clearly defined one, so far, is that magic needs a center point to activate. Some species can do that themselves, but for most of everyone else, they need to use a physical object. However, you risk putting a part of yourself in the object, and if it’s a bad part will become a cursed object. This can result in the magic backfiring, such as Kestrel and Lave’s “Thriller” 2.0 scenario in Chapter One. That’s why types of magic are classified between legal and illegal. Furthermore, you need to have attended magic school and earned a permit in order to perform magic, kind of like gun ownership but way more rigorous (sadly).

As you can tell by everything I’ve just written, there are a lot of layers to the story of Damsels Don’t Wear Glasses. However, I can’t help but feel like it’s just surface level. It might seem like I’ve overexplained parts of the story rather than analyze the whole picture. I haven’t even touched on themes. There are semblances of them occurring, such as friendship and trying to establish roots while feeling like an outsider. There also might be, or at least I hope there will be, socially commentary on the Unsee who are, essentially, a slave cast by what I’ve seen and read. Yet, I just don’t feel like I have enough from the story to comment on all that.

I think my struggles with analyzing the story is the one definitive flaw of DDWG, which is the pacing. As I mentioned before, Brown knows how to decompress an action scene. She lets her action flow in a naturally way that avoids the stiffness and choppiness a lot of comics struggle with. The best art in DDWG arguably comes from these scenes. However, in avoiding choppiness, Bown develops the opposite problem where scenes go on for too long. There were times while reading where I just became exhausted and wished a scene would end already. The pages still look great, but, honestly, some could be cut out for the sake of time.

More importantly, it also robs space that could be used to develop other aspects of the comic. For example, the story and setting that I struggle to analyze. Damsels Don’t Wear Glasses has very long chapters that don’t really have a lot happen in them, but scenes are so drawn out it’s already amounted hundreds of pages. Most of those pages are drawn out action scenes. It really spreads the story thin to the point story and character development are going at a snail’s pace. 7 years on the web and DDWG still feels like it has just started. I’m eager to delve more into the world of the comic. I just hope that Bown learns to use the freedom she has in decompression with more discipline and figures out a balance between action and story.

In the end, I do highly recommend Damsels Don’t Wear Glasses. It is a blast to read. One of the most exciting comics I’ve read in a while. I love the amazing art, I love the energy-fueled action, I love the enduring characters, and I love the world-building. I didn’t even have time to go into how the comic balances a lot of different tones. There’s action, drama, comedy, and even horror. None of it feels out of place. This comic is a perfectly constructed, well-oiled machine riding through Hell’s highway to kickstart your heart. Put on your jean jackets, turn up the power metal, kickback with a cold one, and enjoy the ride.

Read Damsels Don’t Wear Glasses: http://damsels-dont-wear-glasses.com/

Support J. Alice Bown on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/JAliceBown

Follow J. Alice Bown on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AlicesBrainPad