There are some stories that are ingrained in the queer psyche, ones we’re all familiar with, if not from our own lives, then the lives of our friends or partners. They’re not usually happy stories, but they are important to tell, and to hear. I like queer genre fiction that’s pure escapism, sure, but including something of these real life tropes can create a potent power fantasy that’s even more satisfying. I’m talking about things like “being stuck in an isolated hick town and wanting to get out” or “seeing your abusive ex who turned all your friends against you” or “your caravan getting attacked by a dragon on your quest to become a cool outlaw”. What? Is that one just me?
Dragondove is about all these things. It’s also about, like, the old west, except with dinosaurs? I feel like I could probably end this review right there. It’s a dragon western. What more do you honestly need to know?
Okay, I guess that phrase alone actually might bring up valid concerns. The obvious thing that comes to mind is that the western genre is basically founded on glorifying white masculinity, erasing the histories of people of color, and vilifying indigenous peoples. What makes this comic any different? Well, everything.
Lucky is a barmaid, orphaned as a babe and raised by the tavern owner in the tiny podunk ranching town of Dejado. This town, as they say, ain’t big enough for the one of her. She dreams of seeing the wide world she reads about in her books, and generally shirks her actual duties around the tavern. Primrose is a beautiful but humorless courier whose path crosses Lucky’s when they’re caught in a stampede together. When it turns out one of the letters Primrose is carrying is for Lucky, its blasphemous contents tie their fates together on a path far to the east – much to Primrose’s vocal irritation.
Their journey takes them far across the land of Sierra, which has the familiar trappings of a cowboy story – sheriffs and outlaws, lassos and (dino)horses, deserts and trains – but many key differences from the standards of the genre. The Central and North American indigenous influence on the design of the world is obvious, from the creation myth of the Emblazoned Wing, the bird/dragon god whose feathers became the earthly dragons, to the symbology of the holy monuments that dot the countryside, to the design of the masks of the law-enforcing Shielders. Add to that the fact that our two leading ladies are, well, ladies, and that they and most of the people they encounter throughout Sierra aren’t white, and Valiant has created a setting both instantly recognizable and blissfully different from anything I’ve read before.
I haven’t even gotten to my favorite part, which is that no one is straight. Primrose is kind of a ladykiller, and Lucky has an obvious crush on the infamous dragon-wrangling outlaw Tigertail. Others they meet, such as the towering and gentle Moss or the silver-tongued Celestino, also have clear predelictions towards people of their own gender. I actually cheated a bit for this comic and checked out Les Valiant’s blog, which states explicitly that everyone in the comic is some sort of homo. Nice.
If I have any complaints about Dragondove, it’s that Lucky feels a bit weak as a protagonist, because we know so little about her. She’s definitely endearing, a mix of foolishness and bravery that works well for her role in the story, but for someone so forward we see little of her inner mind, other than her ambition to become a dragon wrangler. Her relationship to the mysterious Dragondove, which may have something to do with her orphaning, is the central question of the story, but it’s unclear how she feels about the matter. A little internal conflict would go a long way to making her more engaging, but she seems remarkably carefree so far, which is frustrating.
Primrose, by contrast, becomes a sort of replacement protagonist. Her sardonic comments and caustic dislike of Lucky are entertaining to read in the early parts of the story, but midway through she gains a depth I hadn’t expected when they travel through La Ciudad Red, where her former lover – the manipulative Reyes – has become the ruling Marquesa. The scenes of Reyes gaslighting and scapegoating Primrose were honestly a little hard to read, and readers, especially those with triggers around emotional abuse, should proceed with caution, but they reveal much about Primrose’s backstory and motivations and show a side of her that is much more sympathetic than the cold exterior she usually presents.
Who is the Dragondove? Why is there a sun in the sky if it was supposedly shattered by the Fallen Wings? How does Sheriff Wildflower have a dragon companion if she’s not a Shielder or a wrangler? Are Lucky and Primrose gonna hook up in the end? I don’t know! Read the comic.
Final Verdict: If you like westerns but hate Clint Eastwood, or if you like elaborate fantasy worlds full of cool monsters, or if you just like queer girls with colorful hair, Dragondove definitely has something for you.