Xena #1 // Review
Dynamite’s latest iteration of the beloved Xena Warrior Princess is written by Vita Ayala, with art by newcomer Olympia Sweetman, coloring by Rebecca Nalty and letters by Ariana Maher. With origins on the small screen and history in comics dating back to the late ’90s, Xena is a fighter with supernatural abilities and a painful warmongering past on a quest to make amends by saving lives.
Issue one of the latest series finds us in the woods with Xena’s loyal friend and sidekick Gabrielle holding her own in a fight against two miscreants attempting to attack a traveling family. This introduction is crucial as Ayala & Sweetman establish the petite former farmhand Gabrielle as a capable combatant in her own right and a worthy partner in justice to a tall and mighty Xena with god-like strength. The bad guys keep bad-guying, and Xena finally appears in full force releasing her bronze chakram helping to finish the work Gabrielle started.
Before the pair can take a breath and hi-five their victory, a man on horseback approaches pleading Xena follow him to his doomed village. The stranger explains that the gods are upset and the village children are in jeopardy - persuading Xena and Gabby to head to Sideros. In addition to the mysteries awaiting in Sideros, Gabby and Xena are sharing a horse. With all of the abandoned villages the two have encountered, the evil men with good horses they’ve defeated, the numerous gifts from grateful villagers, why is there still only one horse between them? Xena and Gabby look comfortable, but it seems logistically impractical for two village-saving warriors to be sharing a horse.
Despite their perplexing one horse status, the closeness of the traveling heroes is an expected treat. Whether the allegedly platonic bond with lesbian undertones shared during the early TV seasons of Xena in the homophobic 90’s, or the about-damn-timed depiction of an openly lesbian relationship between the two in the comics of the still homophobic 2016, Gabby and Xena have always been loving companions. Sweetman includes several artistic gestures of Xena resting a consenting arm on Gabby, or the two looking at one another either playfully, flirtatiously, or both during an exchange of witty but kind jabs that only a best friend or lover can give. Ayala & Sweetman portray Xenabrielle’s friendship and their “omg, please kiss!” moments as intriguing and exciting without being salacious and playing into the fantasies of men.
The traveling duo arrives in Sideros to find a village full of brolic children and frightened parents awaiting the wrath of the angry goddess Discord. With an investigation strategy in place, the pair split up. Gabby’s easy-going nature gets the children to open up, while Xena meets a cold reception by a few villagers with one calling out her “destroyer of nations” past. Xena’s face is skillfully drawn to reveal a regretful cringe at who she once was, but also embarrassment that the elder is bringing up old sh*t.
In true bad girl fashion Discord arrives with the fresh outfit like her spiked boots were polished for havoc-wreaking. Rebecca Nalty’s coloring gives the corseted villain’s costume texture and depth with a goth face to match. Though this doesn’t stop the Warrior Princess from putting it all on the line to save a village full of strangers, Discord’s threatening demeanor and goddess level status position her as a villain who Xena may not be able to defeat.
Xena and Gabrielle are warriors who prove their physical ability and tactical strength throughout. By the issue’s end, Ayala seamlessly eliminates the “will they, won’t they” of Xenabrielle stories past, solidifying their relationship dynamic in a way that can only add depth to a series run promising to be full of badassery and mythical hi-jinx.