Yesterday, Disney announced that it's picked up the rights to popular graphic novel Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, an adventure series focused on a sword-wielding young woman. Written by Tony Cliff and originally acquired in 2013 by First Second Books, the series includes a second book, Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling, with a third in the series slated for next year, Delilah Dirk and the Pillar of Hercules.
Described as a female Indiana Jones — but taking place about a hundred years before Indy was out digging for artifacts and fighting Nazis — Delilah Dirk's story is described by the publisher as such:
Lovable ne’er-do-well Delilah Dirk is an adventurer for the 19th century. She has traveled to Japan, Indonesia, France, and even the New World. Using the skills she’s picked up on the way, Delilah’s adventures continue as she plots to rob a rich and corrupt Sultan in Constantinople. With the aid of her flying boat and her newfound friend, Selim, she evades the Sultan’s guards, leaves angry pirates in the dust, and fights her way through the countryside. For Delilah, one adventure leads to the next in this thrilling and funny installment in her exciting life.
So who is this Delilah Dirk and why does she deserve a place among the ranks of live-action Disney royalty including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent and perhaps a forthcoming live-action Ariel?
Put Simply, Delilah Dirk Is...
A Greek-British jungle explorer, an ace at Indonesian acrobatics, trained in Japanese swordsmanship, a world traveler, navigator of a flying boat and..
An Ass-Kicking Female
Obviously we love seeing all these Disney live-action remakes of cartoons and books featuring great ladies, but it's difficult to pinpoint one that is all that badass. Don't get me wrong, they have their skills, but sometimes you want to see a chick purely kick butt — and Disney hasn't done this particularly well.
Cinderella is aided by her fairy godmother and pining for a prince. Belle makes the best of a creepy captivity situation. Alice wanders through Underland encountering all kinds of silly things and accidentally joining a revolution against her better judgment. Even Ariel is motivated by a crush and even enlists an evil octopus to nab her man. Mulan is the closest we get to a real warrior princess, but she has to get her butt whipped into shape first, and who knows when we'll see her live- action counterpart?
When first we meet Delilah, she's already trained and ready to fight. Heck, she's actually in prison, but quickly figures her way out of that one. And she's not afraid to kill those who get in her way.
And while yes, she gets into trouble from time to time, her adventures focus on the good she can do with her clever wiles and fighting skills. In The Turkish Lieutenant the evil pirate Captain Zakul has been stealing from Delilah's uncle, so she decides to take back from him some of the treasure he's amassed.
She's motivated by a Robin Hood sort of vibe and isn't worried about bad things happening to her. She's proactive and justice oriented.
While a live-action Aladdin might be a great opportunity for Disney to showcase its ability to cast diversely — and let's hope it does — Jasmine just isn't the star of that show, though she is a Disney Princess. With The Turkish Lieutenant, Disney has a primo opportunity to showcase how diverse it can be.
Delilah is the daughter of a British father and a Greek mother. Her sidekick Selim is Turkish. The entire tale takes place in 19th century Constantinople. Perfect excuse to tap into the wealth of diverse actors available in Hollywood and keep clearing the image of Disney as a mostly white sphere.
A Non-Royal Royal
While being of blue blood hasn't always been a hard and fast rule for a so-called Disney Princess — in fact, there are less true royals than those adopted into the club — it's rather refreshing that though Delilah has ties to royalty, what makes her unique are her abilities, not her lineage.
When Delilah is introduced in the comic, she's being spoken of by Selim — who would go on a bit later to become her friend and partner in crime — to the head of the prison where she's being held captive. One by one her distinctions and skills are listed and the men's skepticism grows. No way a woman could do all of the things this girl apparently can. Obviously she proves them wrong, and right quick.
Whoever gets cast as Delilah is going to have plenty of fun playing cheeky and confident while plunging her sword into all the people who get in her way.
A Non-Marvel Comic
Writer Tony Cliff has expressed that his motivations behind creating the series was a love for his craft. And based on what he describes, Delilah Dirk ought to feel more like a Marvel movie than a Disney fantasy.
In an interview with EW, Cliff described his personal ethos behind this award-winning series, stating that he wanted to combine the best aspects of exciting and visceral North American superhero comics, thoughtful literary graphic novels, and humorous and accessible newspaper comics:
“I believe readers ought to expect to find a healthy blend of all of these elements in their reading regardless of the genre or slice of the comics spectrum they choose to enjoy, so those are the books I try to make. I want to pull in readers with the anticipation of an exciting story that will make them laugh and I want them to end up discovering relatable, well-rounded, believable characters exploring substantial ideas.”
Not only does this show that Disney is paying attention to the wider world of comics outside of Marvel, but is investing in it, too.
It would be admirable, however, if Disney loses Delilah's unnecessary cleavage keyhole from her outfit and instead chooses to focus on an aesthetic more in keeping with Rey from Star Wars. But obviously, female comic heroes have a bit of a history with such revealing outfits.
There's a lot of reasons to be excited for Disney's latest announcement. And if you're curious about Delilah, then I highly recommend jumping into the series to see her in action for yourself.
She's a smart and confident character who has some thrilling adventures and who picks and fights her own battles. Heck, maybe we ought to scrap the "Disney Princess" monicker altogether and have Delilah start her own group of well-educated, ass-kicking queens.
Keep it up, Disney — more announcements like this are sure to satisfy our comic-reading, lady-loving hearts!