What a fantastic way to kick off the YouNeek YouNiverse, an interrelated set of fantasy, sci-fi and superhero comics and properties from an African perspective! The first volume of Malika: Warrior Queen tells the story of a 15th century ruler, who she was and how she was shaped by the battles that rent and threatened to ultimately destroy her kingdom of Azzaz.
Malika grew up the younger daughter of the royal family, in the shadow of her beloved older sister Nadia. Tho a prodigy, she only became heir the same day that Nadia took a terrible fall and disappeared. With the death of her mother several years later, Malika ascended to the throne, ruling over a scant few years of peace and prosperity before dissension reared its ugly head once more. Now Malika has to preserve the kingdom she fought so hard to unite, not only from internal strife but from the looming threat of General Cheng and his mighty Ming army.
The plot twists nicely (if not necessarily surprisingly to this jaded thriller reader) as Malika has to navigate both military action and political intrigue in her quest to restore peace and affirm a united Azzaz. The rousing speeches are a highlight of the dialog, as Malika must contend with what makes for a fit ruler; kudos to Roye Okupe for some really thoughtful, evocative writing. The supernatural element is also very cool, leaning heavily on a mash-up of African and Chinese mythology. I really enjoyed the ending as well, and how it sets up for the rest of the extended universe. Bonus: this book definitely passes the Bechdel test!
But my favorite part of the book was likely the art, which was pretty darn terrific. Raphael Kazeen’s colors do a wonderful job of breathing life into Chima Kalu’s evocative, expressive illustrations. It’s rare to find someone as good at depicting facial expressions as they are at close combat, mass military maneuvers and supernatural effects, but Mr Kalu fully delivers on everything the script calls for.
This first volume of Malika: Warrior Queen, much like its heroine, is the total package, smart, entertaining and just gorgeous to look at. We’re really lucky to be able to provide coverage of not only this graphic novel, but also the other two flagship books of the YouNeek YouNiverse brought to American audiences by Dark Horse Comics in conjunction with YouNeek Studios. Stay tuned for those reviews in the weeks to come!
Malika: Warrior Queen Volume 1 by Roye Okupe, Chima Kalu & Raphael Kazeem was published September 7 2021 by Dark Horse Books and is available from all good booksellers, including