Ladycastle is written by Delilah S. Dawson and drawn by Ashley Woods.
The only other thing I can think of that I’ve read by her was a short in the Labyrinth 2017 special. It was a decent, fun story.
I bought issue 1 of Ladycastle from the kids’ section of an LCS as part of my ongoing quest to find current comics I can enjoy. It looked fantastic, and of course I love me some fantasy.
I don’t usually spend word count on summarising the story, but I don’t think I can talk about the subtext that’s present throughout this comic without retelling it.
Subtext is important here, because the writer is very good at telling you things through implication and insinuation rather than through either telling or showing – a skill I admire.
Ladycastle is a fractured fairytale about a princess (Aeve) locked into a tower by her father ‘to keep her pure’. All the males of her village have gone off to find her a prince to marry (we don’t know how long they’ve been away; we know he does this every year, and the women have settled in to their new roles pretty well).
For some reason, those roles are all the roles of the men in their lives – wives take over from husbands, sisters from brothers. Nobody (in #1) takes an entirely new role – say, a butcher’s wife becoming a hansom driver. Unfortunate implications? You decide.
They also ask whether unjust laws should be obeyed with nobody there to enforce them. This isn’t answered directly, but it is in subtext – the women of Mancastle keep on obeying until the Inciting Incident.
One day, one old man (Lord Riddick) returns and says the rest of the men and boys were eaten by a dragon after a wizard cursed them for not paying the toll to cross a bridge (the women side with the wizard: “Mancastle was rude again. Wouldn’t even pay the toll.” “Evil wizards have to eat, you know.”).
Then The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft a Sword from the bosom of the water, and proclaimed “Not only was King Mancastle cursed, but so was his domain. This castle shall be a beacon to terrifying monsters until the wizard’s curse is lifted.” She gives the sword to the blacksmith’s wife, signifying by divine providence that she, Merinor, would be king. Not queen, king. For some reason. From the back cover: “Listen, strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is a great basis for a system of government.”
They promptly free the princess from the tower and start training the women to be knights. (All the men were apparently knights, so that’s okay.) They change the name of their castle / village (the story keeps saying it’s a castle, but writes it as a village; maybe Dawson’s research is better than my vague impressions, though) from Mancastle to Ladycastle, giving the series a title.
Salamanders invade the castle – the first lot of terrifying monsters to come from the wizard’s curse. The women gather them up to use as lanterns and to stoke the forge while the old man goads them to murder (his word) the creatures. He’s shocked when they don’t.
Not just shocked, but disappointed. Look at the body language; admire how the Ashley Wood is able to convey emotion through the slumping of his shoulders, his expression, the king’s expression.
Remember that these salamanders aren’t here as part of a natural migration; they are here as part of a curse. If it were really a curse, surely violent self-defence is called for? … but the story doesn’t follow its own rules, and instead they make friends with them.
That’s a good resolution in and of itself, but it ignores its own rules to do it – and uses it to demonise men.
This is the problem I have with this story: it’s based purely in gender-based stereotyping.
It makes sure to portray a world where every man is a violent moron, unable to see what he’s doing to the women around them, living only to oppress women. The women have the village / castle to themselves while the men and boys are all off fighting, but they don’t emancipate themselves until they hear about all the deaths. It sends the dual message – whether intentional or not – that as long as men are around women will be nothing but helpless victims, and they’re better off with all men and boys dead. It disempowers women and villifies men.
There’s never a sense that most of the women and girls care at all that half the population of their castle-village has just died; only the younger princess (Gwyneff) cares that her father died. She brings it up a few times, but she’s the only one:
Aeve concedes – once, in response to Gwyneff – “I’m sorry (father)’s dread. I’m sorry they all are.” That’s it. Grieving done.
King Merinor is implied to have a very bad marriage; she certainly doesn’t miss her husband.
Sir Riddick (which I assume is short for ‘ridiculous’) is the only male in this who has his own speaking part. You only see others through vague flashbacks when he tells his story, and you get to know them through the way their thoughtless actions adversely affect the lives of the women and girls they left behind – again, Dawson’s mistressery of subtext – but they’re only shown in a couple of panels without dialogue. And yet, that’s all this story is about – worthless, evil men using violence for violence’s sake vs noble, courageous, strong-and-capable-but-victimised women who are pure and friendly and nice.
Sir Riddick spends this time assuming he’ll be king, and acting like a pompous, condescending, entitled jerk, and constantly shocked when he doesn’t get all the power and glory. He never learns. I guess the first terrifying monster is some kind of man made out of straw…
I said above that the writer is very good at subtext, and that’s one of her strengths. It’s also the downfall of this comic; if only we could get her to use her powers for good.
I’ve read that this story came about after a convention that announced a ‘Women In Comics’ panel – with no women on it. I mean, who does that? It’s so obviously, stupid and bad and wrong (they fixed the mistake before the panel actually happened, and Dawson ended up being on it). Me, I’d think the way to respond to that would be with a story about men being represented by a group of women in an arena where men are underrepresented.
Instead, Dawson chooses to show a bunch of negative stereotypes about men, letting her sexist flag fly. I find this story abhorrent. It’s sexist and hateful, and not that much better for women.
I did not read issue 2.