Alex Yarde reviews an epic retelling of Julius Cesar featuring lesbian female characters!
As a HUGE fan of sword and sandal epics and action packed fantasy potboilers Cassius, from writer Emily Willis and artist Ann Uland, hits a bulls eye for me! It harkens back to a less campy Xena and a more historically accurate Game Of Thrones with a story which fans of either will relish! Importantly, the cast showcases strong feminist, queer and multi cultural characters that aren’t caricatures. They coexist within their fictional world and interact intelligently. Strong female characters that aren’t stoic damaged superwomen. Males who aren’t all blonde, square jawed fearless heroes, and ZERO damsels in distress! It’s a tall order for an ambitious historically fictional action story that the creators to their credit endow with a rare authenticity.
Cassius’ setting is an alternative ancient Greco-Roman like universe within a collection of city-states know as Latium. It’s a classic heroines journey as Cassius main protagonist, Cyrenthaian everywoman Junia, is thrust center stage into a violent world of political intrigue, greed and warfare. Junia’s fate has led her to bear the legendary cursed mark of Cassius. Those who bear it become a powerful agent of change whose choices will shepard the realm of Latium into either a fabled golden age or to it’s ultimate destruction.
Cassius’ story is dense and it could have been very wordy but thankfully this first issue is visually striking, well-drawn and paced with just enough necessary back-story punctuated by bold, straightforward action panels and bloody violence. The color palate reminds me of another sword and sandal comic I love Matt Crotts KYRIE or early Red Sonyas. I particularly enjoyed a flashback scene filled dark purples and rich blue hues. The fulcrum of our tale which is set at night in a Villa at the outskirts of town. Emily’s writing is very tight and the dialouge is period and appropriately haughty. The character interactions bear weight and are both refreshingly intelligent and humorous at times.
Though Cassius holds the promise of badass lesbian gladiator fan service it’s not grindhouse. The personal interactions and portrayals of the characters sexuality aren’t gratuitous though it’s subject matter makes Cassius clearly a book for adults. It’s a mature look at cannocaly lesbian female characters that aren’t defined simply by their sexuality. Throughout this impressive, recently crowd funded riff on Shakespeare’s Julius Cesar Writer Willis and Penciler Uland both demonstrate not only great technical skill, but an obvious respect and love for the source material.
My favorite character so far is unsurprisingly Junia. She’s a multifaceted, strong willed and intelligent woman but unsure of herself and her new role. She recognizes she cant do this alone. We identify with her she’s likable, relatable and she is our entry into the tale. Cassius in Latin means “empty, vain.” This remarkable story is anything but! I look forward to future episodes of this whip smart, entertaining comic! You can learn more about Emily & Ann at the Grave Impressions Facebook page or buy an issue of Cassius at Arbitrary Muse Comics. If you live in the St.Louis area consider picking up a copy of Cassius at Star Clipper or near Savannah at Comics and More for autographed copies! We as comic book geeks need to support our local comic shops and content creators! I hope you enjoy Cassius as much as I did!
all art ~ Ann Uland