Little Deaths, as much as it covers a nominally historical subject, is most similar to a Conan the Barbarian story. The comic, by David Doub, Andrew Herman, Paul Maitland, and Daniel Chan, is about the real world, actual person Julie D’Aubigny. And D’Aubigny is a fascinating person, who unquestionably deserves someone to write a comic about her. She ran away from her husband to travel with her lover and fencing instructor, during which she made her living as an opera singer. The first story based off of her is a novel that came out in 1835.
Little Deaths contains three stories, each about Mademoiselle D’Aubigny. To be clear, this is not historical fiction. It’s more like Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja, or – and this is the most direct comparison – the Robert Howard character that is also a sword wielding Frenchwoman, Dark Agnes de Chastillon. (Who, incidentally, recently had her own comic book from Marvel, which was sadly cancelled during the pandemic.) In Little Deaths, D’Aubigny fights an incubus and the undead, falls in love with a ghost, and meets a fairy.
Now, this may be controversial, but I am pretty confident that the historical Julie D’Aubigny did not meet any supernatural creatures.
That’s not to say that that is a bad thing. It isn’t. Little Deaths is delightful. It’s not a self-serious book, and it’s a story that has more in common with Errol Flynn and the almost shlocky Arnold Conan then it does with anything serious. You have to shrug and smile with some of the more contrived plot devices, that’s true – but you have to do that with a decent amount of those sort of pulp adventure stories. It’s not something to worry too hard about the details. Just enjoy the ride.
But that isn’t to forgive it of all its problems, either. Little Deaths is – well, let’s say that the when they say ‘little deaths,’ they mean what the French mean when they say ‘le petite mort.’ In the comic, unlike how the historic Julie D’Aubigny wore men’s attire, she wears high heeled boots, some sort of thigh-high leather stocking, and a very low-cut dress. On one hand, that’s sort of the attire you’d expect from the genre, but on the other, that genre came from the ’30s, and it is not 1930. And of the three stories, two of them are predicated on Julie sleeping with another woman.
I can’t recommend Little Deaths wholeheartedly. I’m not sure that I’d say it’s good. But if you’re willing to get past these issues, if you view them as a genre conceit, or what have you, then I’d say it’s fun. Which is a virtue in and of itself.
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