LADYCASTLE #4: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES by Delilah S. Dawson, Becca Farrow, and Rebecca Nalty
Characterization
Art
Plot
Summary
LADYCASTLE #4 flips the fantasy genre on its head with heartfelt storytelling and artwork that embraces feminine strength.
93 %
An ensorcelling tale

The four issue series LADYCASTLE comes to a close in LADYCASTLE #4: THE BLACK KNIGHT RISES. The entire arc is empowering and refreshing, and the final installment more than delivers on all the anticipation and mystery. Effortlessly tying up plenty of loose ends, writer Delilah S. Dawson still leaves me wanting more.

READ: Want a refresher on LADYCASTLE? Check out our review of LADYCASTLE #1!

A Duel

In the last issue, the young princess Gwyneff was kidnapped. In LADYCASTLE #4, we find out that a mysterious and unnamed knight kidnapped her for revenge on King Mancastle, unaware that he is already dead. The knight says that the only way for Gwyneff to return safely is for the best knight of the kingdom to best him in a tournament of three challenges: jousting, archery, and a battle of wits.

Aeve, always brave and devoted to her sister, of course steps up to the plate. The knight tries to engage in battle with the only remaining man in the kingdom, but Aeve won’t stand for it. Not only is she the most competent knight, but she is willing to do anything for her sister. Her love and sacrifice only grow more as the issue goes on.

LADYCASTLE #4
Image from LADYCASTLE #4, courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Curses!

As is befitting of the fantasy genre, LADYCASTLE relies heavily on the lore of curses. In this concluding issue we learn the truths of two separate curses that rule the lives of the women in the kingdom. We first learn the nature of the curse on Aeve which portends she may never leave past the moat until she is married. Aeve herself debates whether or not the curse even exists. She thinks it’s just a story her father told her to keep her in line.

However, as Aeve charges past the boundaries of Ladycastle, she finds that unfortunately her father had his honest moments. The reveal of the curse is an absolute masterpiece of storytelling. I’m so empathetic and connected to Aeve that she had me believing the curse was a hoax, too. The horror and shock of learning the consequences of her leaving are so exciting that I wish I could put myself in the shoes of new readers just to experience it all over again.

LADYCASTLE #4
Image from LADYCASTLE #4, courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

LADYCASTLE #4 also delves into the details of the curse of the former Mancastle, now Ladycastle. The mysterious knight assures Gwyneff that the origins of the curse are from far more than just King Mancastle refusing to pay a toll. Additionally, this issue explores how the wider nature of curses affects people — how curses may treat different kinds of people in different ways. The given rules of this world are very interesting when it comes to how to live with or break a curse.

Prince(less and) Charming

The LADYCASTLE series has undeniable charm, which issue #4 valiantly continues. One of my favorite recurring oddities of this comic is the lyric parody in every issue. LADYCASTLE #4 parodied “Ten Duel Commandments” from HAMILTON to set up the jousting portion of the tournament. Clever and relevant pop culture references are my weakness, and this series is rife with them.

READ: Want more on what LADYCASTLE does for the fantasy genre? Check out this article!

A personal favorite of mine from this issue are the woodland animals that accompany the mysterious knight. This is perhaps the best inversion of expectation in LADYCASTLE. While normally one would expect animals to dote upon a princess and braid her hair, here they are rough and tumble knights and squires. Come on, squirrel squires? Enough said.

LADYCASTLE #4
Image from LADYCASTLE #4, courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Another great charm threaded through LADYCASTLE is the representation of strength. Fantasy as a genre is plagued with hyper-masculinity, but LADYCASTLE works overtime to deconstruct those notions. Strength never has to equate to physical violence, but rather courage and force of will. In this issue Aeve has the ability (through the new consequences of her curse) to easily kill the black knight. However, she chooses to go through with the tournament, unwilling to be like her father who killed anything in his way. Aeve proves that strength means sometimes doing things the hard way. Love is strength. Sacrifice is strength. Femininity, too, in its many forms, can also be strength.

Artwork

The artwork by Becca Farrow and coloring by Rebecca Nalty is an especially cartoonish stylization. Like the lyrical writing, the artwork harkens back to the good old days of Disney hand-drawn animation. It makes sense, as a work which aims to deconstruct the damsel genre. I’d even say it’s cute, though it’s not my preferred style by any means. There are moments sometimes where I think the cuteness of the artwork gets in the way of the sense of danger in the story.

Still, one cannot deny that the artwork has an exceptional execution, regardless of taste. The characters are visually unique and diverse, and their emotions feel real on the page. The soft, bright colors celebrate femininity in a subtle, pleasing way. More so, while very little fighting takes place in LADYCASTLE, one can still feel movement and life within the panels.

LADYCASTLE #4
Image from LADYCASTLE #4, courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

READ: For more feminism in comics, check out our article on HELP US! GREAT WARRIOR!

Final Thoughts on LADYCASTLE #4

LADYCASTLE #4 is an absolutely amazing read. I would recommend it to any of my friends, especially those who find themselves growing tired of the fantasy genre. Sometimes I think the messages of empowerment in LADYCASTLE might be a little too blatant and on the nose — like in LADYCASTLE #3 when Aeve and Gwyneff have the conversation about still being strong in a dress, even though that matter was already shown and didn’t need to be told. However, I still think the series does a wonderful job of authentic and important representation. It’s accessible, too — enjoyable for adults who are long time fans of not-so-distressed damsels, and great for children who need exposure to diversity and female empowerment.

In every issue the stakes have raised, and LADY CASTLE #4 is no less satisfying. However, while so many questions are answered, new ones rise with the conclusion of this four part series. I only hope a new arc is to come, as I’ve grown attached to these well-developed and lovable characters who found strength in a world that tried to deny it to them.

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