Championess – May Graphic Novel of The Month

Inspired by true events, Championess follows the rise of a legendary bare-knuckle boxer that is soon to be adapted into a TV series. In eighteenth century London, Elizabeth Wilkinson is struggling to make ends meet for her and her sister Tess. While Elizabeth works odd jobs at the local newspaper, her true passion is bare-knuckle boxing. The only way to make enough money off boxing is to train with one of the famous retired boxers and the only real fight promoter of any notoriety, James Figg. Figg refuses to train Elizabeth at first because she is a woman, but she cunningly forces his hand by taking an ad in the newspaper and claiming that she will fight another female bare-knuckle boxer as Figg’s pupil. As Elizabeth trains with Figg and James Stokes, she is forced to come to terms with her half-Indian side and her criminal father as she faces the powerful female bare-knuckle boxers of her day.

We are now in an era where the likes of Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Cris Cyborg have proven female fighters can be a significant stars and box office draws. But they have always had more obstacles placed in their way than their male counterparts. This comic covers a time period where it was unthinkable for a woman to be a boxer, let alone a headliner. Elizabeth Wilkinson’s story is an early example of a woman reaching a high level in a competitive sport that is not widely known or talked about. Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas (an accomplished pair of YA authors) weave a compelling narrative that not only works as a history lesson, but also as a satisfying underdog story with many layers including betrayal, racism, sexism and romance. Elizabeth is the perfect underdog with her former childhood friend turned bitter rival Joanna – who has all the luxuries Wilkinson is denied – proving to be a great rival.

Newcomer Amanda Perez Puentes provides some strong art that manages to successfully capture the time period whilst creating some memorable character designs in the process. These are some scrappy characters who are not concerned with getting their facial features rearranged, but Elizabeth still manages to stand out above the rest. Puentes also excels in the fight scenes that the narrative is based around with the physicality really coming through and managing to highlight how fights were far dirtier and less glitzy than they tend to be these days.

Anyone who has an interest in the history of female combat sport will find Elizabeth Wilkinson’s story highly engrossing. It will also more than satisfy those who enjoy a great underdog story.

Championess is out now from Legendary Comics
(9781681160764, p/b, £16.99)

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