It’s not often the case that a spin-off series matches the popularity of the original feature, but that’s what happened with Raven, the Pirate Princess. Raven Xingtao was introduced in the third volume of Princeless, appropriately titled The Pirate Princess, when Princess Adrienne rescued her from the tower in which her brothers had imprisoned her to prevent her becoming the Pirate Queen. She’s far more suited to the position than they are, being more skilled and wilier, but while she now has a ship, her problem is how to gather a crew. This opening volume shows how that happens, and it’s already better than a fair chunk of Princeless.

A lot of that is to do with the art, which holds Princeless back, but when Raven was introduced her story was drawn by Rosy Higgins (pencils, colour) and Ted Brandt (layouts, inks) and that same art team follow her into her own series. They’re a really polished combination, good with layouts, action, emotion and comedy, and as seen on the sample art, they put the effort into the backgrounds as well, ensuring we see Raven as living in a real and populated environment.

While concentrating on her present day endeavours, Jeremy Whitley also takes us back to the past, examining the relationship between the younger Raven and her father, and why her brothers got the upper hand. There’s an underlying joy to everything, exemplified in why Raven ends up with an all-women crew being explained in the second chapter where she interviews a selection of male applicants, none of them remotely suitable. Whitley characterises them as either sleazy or pirate fanboys over a funny sequence. However, he’s not just playing everything for laughs as he gradually introduces the primary members of Raven’s crew, spending time with them so we understand them, their situations and their skills. In some cases this is comedy, and in others there’s tragedy. Overall, this is a real joy, and better than all but the best of Princeless. You’ll want to pick up on the next stage of Raven’s quest in Free Women.