By Sarah Vaughn, Leila Del Duca, Deron Bennett, Gabe Fischer, Shanna Mutuszak
Image Comics has produced yet another high-quality comic meriting readers’ close attention, this time in the form of a romantic- fantasy called Sleepless
Set in a world not unlike most fantasy realms based on Medieval Britain, it follows Lady “Poppy” Pyppenia as she watches her father’s brother ascend to the throne of Harbeny. Poppy, although her father was a king, appears to have been the result of an affair and so lacks an “official” claim to the throne herself. Her mother is far away traveling, leaving Poppy alone save for her bodyguard Sir Cyrenic, who has vowed never to sleep. This isn’t hyperbole, he undertook some kind of enchantment rendering it impossible for him to sleep, thus making him an ideal bodyguard and ever vigilant.
As I mentioned, Poppy’s uncle has now become king, making her position in the monarchy that much more tense. The line of succession is a highly valued one, and a man like her uncle wouldn’t want an illegitimate daughter complicating matters. Assassination is a daily concern, which is why Poppy needs a bodyguard who can never rest to watch over her.
It’s a highly engaging story, giving us the basics of this world and who the characters are while leaving much more left to be revealed. How does one become a sleepless? When happens when they die? Why did Poppy’s mother leave Harbeny and her daughter so vulnerable?Will Poppy and Cyrenic get together?
This last one is more integral to the story, as it is a romance as much as a fantasy.
The artwork by Leila Del Luca, is perfectly suited to this series, with her style working as a cross between Sam Keith and Ramon Perez here. The early pages of this issue are set in a mausoleum, with an atmosphere reminiscent of Keith’s expressive line work. At the same time, there’s a softness and energy to the characters and environments recalling Perez’s Tales of Sand. However, Del Luca’s style is much more unique than can be easily describe. Gabe Fischer’s color flats add texture to Del Luca’s pencils, cementing the Medieval setting of the story while also making it feel alive.
While the quality of the issue has been discussed, two other aspects deserve a mention. One, that this series appears to have a mainly female team of creators. This would be irrelevant if it wasn’t a rarity still in comics. The other interesting aspect would be the diversity of the comic, so close to England’s next royal marriage between Prince Harry and Megan Merkle. Despite the racial diversity of Harbeny, and there is appropriately plenty of it which is true to the actual Middle Ages, Poppy is something of an outsider because she is black. While her race is never mentioned in the story, her skin color nevertheless marks her as an outsider to everyone she encounters. She stands out in the throne room, a fact she must be constantly aware of. It’s possible her race factors in to why she isn’t considered a viable queen, and this will be explored later. Intentional or not, the issue reminded me of the reaction to Megan Merkle joining the royal family and this would be a timely reference if it were true.
Politics aside, this is one enjoyable comic. It hews close enough to traditional medieval fantasy tropes, while still feeling fresh for modern readers. Much like Sarah Vaughn’s previous work like Alex+Ada or Deadman: Dark Dimension of Forbidden Love, the romance between Poppy and Cyrenic will likely be the crux of the story, but there is also potential for Vaughn to explore more of Harbeny and Poppy’s family drama as well. I’m along for the ride in either case.