Pullbox Reviews Damsel From DISTRESS #1- Punching Evil in the face & then laughing at it for being a big ol’ baby about it

A comic that throws Dungeons & Dragons, James Bond, Charlies Angels, and Zelda into a blender to tell the story of Bec – agent of DISTRESS. Abandoned as a child by her adventurer father, she has fought her way up through the ranks of the kingdoms premier espionage agency to become their top operative. When a Dwarven princess goes missing, it’s up to Bec to overcome the ghosts of her family’s past and to save the day!

I’m always open to new interpretations in popular genres, different spins on old concepts. So it was that when I was contacted by Andrew Clemson (Star Bastard, Bete Noir) about his new title, Damsel From DISTRESS, I thought the pitch was kinda cool. The first issue opens on a pretty typical scenario- the “helpless” damsel tied to the sacrificial pillar as the Evil Wizard oozes menace & the heroic knight arrives to save the day. Excpet the damsel is anything but helpless, the wizard is evil but only mildly menacing, and the knight’s name is Dave. That’s it, no “Sir”… just Dave.

As it happens, the damsel is Bec and her capture was just the ruse she needed to infiltrate the wizard’s tower without any muss or fuss (believe me, there is both muss & fuss to be found in this book, but that mostly comes later). Bec is on a mission for an “inter-kingdom agency called D.I.S.T.R.E.S.S.” as she escapes the wizard’s clutches, retrieves the MacGuffin of her assignment, and even manages to rescue poor woefully unprepared Dave.

Damsel From DISTRESS is nothing short of a blast to read, from start to finish. While Andrew Clemson hasn’t put his hero up against any real challenges in the first issue, unless we count staying awake while Dave regales her with his many almost awesome deeds, he has begun the work of investing his world with personality to spare. Take Bec, the title character imbued with all of the very best traits any hero could ask for, up to and including a shadowy backstory. Then there’s Dave, who really wants to be a knight, but honestly has trouble riding a horse for long periods (chafing, you see). Finally we’re given a brief introduction to some of Bec’s co-workers in DISTRESS, including the Big Boss In Charge who is currently… a frog (more on that later, I hope). Clemson’s approach to storytelling skirts the line between in your face & less is more. His method of world building doesn’t give the sense that the setting is just there for the sake of the characters, but is a living world inhabited by many more people than are seen on the page. There’s a history to be unraveled, in as much as will be allowed in the context of this five issue mini-series.

The visual style of artist Mauricio Mora works beautifully with the kind of story Clemson is telling, all bright colors & detail rather than obscurring shadows. The effect gives Damsel From DISTRESS an open feeling, reflecting the story’s tone of quips and broken tropes. One of the things I really appreciated about Mora’s work was the way he used panel arrangements to help set the book’s attitude. As a very self-aware comic aiming to establish expectations and then kick them squarely in the jumblies, the panels flow from a standard grid to a more open display, setting up a “fourth wall” just to knock it the hell down when it gets in the way.

Finally, as the letter & editor on the book, Hassan Otsmane Elhaou has a lot going on that he has to keep track of. In the lettering, Elhaou did a great job of letting the script work through the panels without crowding the action. That might sound like it should be a gimme for a letterer, but that isn’t always the case. The other thing Elhaou did very well was giving different “voices” to the characters, using different fonts & bubble styles to reinforce what was happening in the action, but not letting things get so out of hand that it became difficult to read. On the editing side, I’d be interested to find out how often he looked at a script and shook his head in dismay, or if he just gave Clemson all of the rope he needed to either climb the mountain or hang himself.

Damself From DISTRESS (if you have to ask what the acronym stands for, you don’t have the clearance to know) is the kind of book that invites you to bring your expectations along for the ride, with the understanding that you’re being set up to have them shredded. The first issue was a great ride, introducing characters and situations that left me wanting to know more. The 2nd & 3rd issues will be going to Kickstarter on April 14th, with the 1st to be available in the reward tiers, so keep an eye on Clemson’s Twitter feed as the launch date approaches.

Final Score: 10/13

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