Originally published in CGMagazine
by Mariel Hope
In a progressive era of social restructuring and a push for creative equality in the media, the need for complex, diverse female characters is greater than ever; it’s a way of “characterizing” the movement and embodying the different viewpoints currently catalyzing change. Some well-known creative studios are trying to meet this uprising demand for POC representation in their fictional universes by casting or creating minority characters, but they’re working from a deep well of primarily white, male, cis-gendered characters, and so the diverse characters they do feature are sometimes underdeveloped plot-wise, lacking real depth or background to bolster their motivations and heart.
Titan1Studios’ Relativity Universe has been conceived from the start to meet this (long over-due) need by honoring a spectacular array of talented and distinct voices, and building a strong foundational network of interesting, smart, and fiercely independent women characters within its five comic series; from Sayyida, an unyielding navy captain in search of treasure; to Riley, an ex-marine and single mother, hell-bent on protecting her daughter; to Ania and Jenna, warriors searching for the truth about their missing parents.
The women of the RU are tied together, either by fate, a shared reality, or their devotion to their family and supporting other women in their lives, a common thread which begins with Ania, a former military doctor turned Knight Guardian in the series Knight Guardians of Relativity. The Knight Guardians live in a future where the Apocalypse did indeed happen, but in a story-telling twist was caused by unregulated and destructive time travel – via the Relativity Machine. The Knight Guardians are charged with protecting mankind from any further destructive time travel, a mission that is personal for Ania. Having grown up feeling abandoned by her absent father, Ania eventually learned that the reason for his absence was that he was a time traveller, as well as the founder of the Knight Guardians. Despite the revelation that her father was a hero to others, his neglect of her was still a painful truth that led to her instability and distrust of others, as well as intense isolation as an adult. But when her father is killed, in the first episode of the series, Ania is drawn into a mission that will force her to confront these deep issues: when she meets Clara, the daughter of one of her enemies, twisted by her father into a torture-loving, Guardian-killer. And after one fateful night, when Ania is forced to kill Clara’s father to escape, she inadvertently becomes the little girl’s keeper, unable to leave an innocent, albeit corrupted, soul behind.
Ania’s relationship with Clara is one that tests the both of them, forcing Ania to come to terms with her own damage and shortcomings, even as her motherly instincts kick in. She is forced to choose whether she wants to continue the cycle of neglect her father created, or try to break it with a child seemingly incapable of being understood. The psychological underpinnings of Ania and Clara’s story not only make them unique characters, but allow audiences to identify with the complexities of their mother-daughter relationship: a difficult relationship no matter what the circumstance, and one which carries over into New Humanz with Riley and Sady.
In New Humanz, the story begins when Riley, a Latina ex-CIA agent and Iraq war veteran, is accidentally pulled with her daughter Sady through a time vortex into the future, ripping their bodies apart. Allegorically representing the struggle young immigrant mothers’ face in a foreign land, the future forces Riley to find livelihood and solace in a strange (and often dangerous) place, in order to earn enough money to rebuild their bodies with ‘new human’ robotic parts. Working undercover to take down an insidious crime syndicate, Riley readily puts herself in danger, sacrificing everything to ensure Sady can and will have a better life; metaphorically, Riley is working from the desire all parents have to protect and nurture their children’s’ growth. Of course in New Humanz’s future, ‘growth’ means upgrading to better parts – a luxury that single mother Riley can barely afford.
The push and pull between Riley and Sady – a loving mother and daughter plagued by the shame of being alienated and disabled – puts their relationship at odds, forcing them to find comfort in each other; a message of self-acceptance and family support that is ultimately found in all of RU’s narratives, including Jenna’s story in Weathered Spirit.
Deviating from the already eccentric family standard set by New Humanz and Knight Guardians, Weathered Spirit tells the story of Jenna: a lonely, washed-up P.I. with a serious drinking problem, plagued by the mystery of her mother’s untimely death; and if her psychological torment isn’t enough, she’s haunted by horrible spectres only she can see – a gift she soon discovers is shared by her cousin, Alice. Seeing that Jenna is controlled by her fear and pain, Alice teaches Jenna to turn her demons into angels by letting them in, allowing Jenna to not only solve her mother’s death but to help others as well. It is ultimately Jenna’s fate to heal her own soul by dedicating herself to a community and creating a kind of family she never had.
Empowered by a deep realization of herself and the journey into an unknown realm, Jenna slowly loses her fear in the face of death, allowing her, like Riley and Ania, to look past herself in the service of others. This powerful message of self-actualization is still too rarely heard, both in fiction and in life – especially for women – and is desperately needed in a time of emerging female leadership. And with the influx of powerful WOC characters defining Titan1’s roster, perhaps no one exemplifies this movement better than Sayyida: the Arabic Navy Admiral turned fearless rebel leader.
Defecting from the Sirafi navy and abandoning the will of a corrupt king, Sayyida steals away her beloved ship, The Ghost, along with its ragtag crew. Renaming themselves ‘The Dragons’, the crew of The Ghost are infamous pirates, searching tirelessly for Brahampuri: the resting place of the last Relativity Machine, hoping to capture it in return for a full pardon. Strong, fearless, and ready to do anything to earn herself and her crew the freedom they deserve, Sayyida is strengthened by her devotion to her unusual family and defined by her independence – qualities she shares with Ania, Jenna, and Riley. Her enigmatic power is one that attracts everyone who has seen The Ghost in their harbour or heard her story, inspiring a generation of children to take to the seas, hoping to one day join her crew.
Like all Titan1 characters, Sayyida’s story is ultimately one of sacrifice and community, challenging the stereotypical ‘lone wolf’ archetype and giving the RU audience a new way to think about action comics. Whether it be an adopted family member, a group of people you take under your wing, or your own flesh and blood, bonds made by love, acceptance and/or fate are what define the women of the Relativity Universe, and what make them so unique in a media landscape still struggling with minority representation. Titan1’s comics not only beautifully display the humanness of these amazing female characters, but give voice to the diverse cast of authors behind the scenes, creating an incredibly multifaceted universe populated by strong-willed, emotionally-complex, and memorable characters.
Preview Relativity Universe comics online at KnightGuardians.com