Mouse Smash

JC Lau's blog about geekery, gender and other rants

Cassius is More than Just “Ass-Kicking Roman Lesbians”

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Cassius1I’ve read a lot of comics in my time, but I’ve never really found many that address my non-comic political interests. A possible exception has been Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ The Unwritten series, which discusses things such as metastories and political philosophy, but that’s just one instance. Exceptions are rare.

This is why I was super excited to have the opportunity to review Cassius, which on the face of it, was going to address some of my other interests: I love history, I love Shakespeare, and I love dynamic female characters. Cassius has all of these things in scads, which pleases me immensely.

Cassius is an action-adventure story from the minds of Emily Willis and Ann Uland, collectively known as Arbitrary Muse Comics. Arbitrary Muse had previously been on my radar for their queer retelling of Cinderella, in their book If the Shoe Fits. For Cassius, Arbitrary Muse gathered more than $6000, which was enough support to crowdfund at least the first two issues.

Junia and Prima's relationship is a complex and interesting one. Image source: Arbitrary Muse Comics

Junia and Prima’s relationship is a complex and interesting one. Image source: Arbitrary Muse Comics

Cassius, historically, was one of the conspirators in the assassination of Julius Caesar, and Willis says that the story in the comic was inspired by the characters in Shakespeare’s play. However, in this version, Cassius tells the story of Junia, a queer woman of color—yes, you read that right! How refreshing is it to see such a protagonist? She comes across as a smart, confident woman who knows what she wants.

Imbued with the mysterious mark of Cassius, which identifies the bearer as a bringer of great change, Junia must come to terms with her role and destiny, with the help of her allies. Among those is Prima, her former partner. Prima is a powerful orator in the Roman Senate, who kicks ass with not just her wits, but also her sword, and I’d be interested to see more of a backstory about the relationship between the two. In Issue 1, we also meet the mysterious Marcus, who seems to be sent to guide Junia on her quest. It’s a little bit tropey, but not problematically so because the diverse cast of characters at hand makes it much less conventional and tired.

The art in the comic is wonderfully descriptive, and I love how the characters have been depicted. There is so much representation in the cast so far, with a strong LGBTQ and female presence. The layout also does well to help the pacing of the story, with lots of timely onomatopoeic effects in the action sequences.

As with many pilots and first issues, there is a lot of setup that has to take place; we’re introduced to the characters and thrust into the main story arc. There’s not much character development that can take place in such a short space, but the final scenes of Issue 1 really set it up as a powerful origin story.

Even though we’ve been thrown into the story without a full idea of what’s happened to the characters in the past, the narrative is compelling enough to expect that Willis and Uland will deliver great things with this ambitious story. I’m excited to see where the story goes, and I already can’t wait for Issue 2.
Issue 1 of Cassius is now available for $5 from Arbitrary Muse Comics.
This post was originally published for GeekGirlCon.

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