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Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) was a pioneer of the organized women's rights movement in Edwardian England. Along with her daughter Sylvia, she traveled throughout Great Britain, much to the establishment's chagrin, to spread the word and ignite grassroots participation in the movement, which the authorities were under much political pressure to subjugate. Subjecting such activists to the ignominy of public arrest was the only recourse they had to the free speech that threatened their status quo. By treating these peaceful but outspoken women like common criminals, they thought they could stamp out the movement by discrediting it. This, however, only led to an eventual radicalization of the movement, and the Pankhursts found themselves in need of bodyguards as the police, in their frustration, began to pour more and more manpower into their efforts at suppression. The Amazons were independent, free-thinking women just like their employers, and just as passionate about women's rights, but with the fortuitous addition of formal training in the martial arts, particularly a mixed form called Bartitsu. Beyond their adeptness at hand-to-hand techniques and the use of "Indian clubs", the Amazons added everyday objects to their arsenal of weapons - umbrellas and canes that looked innocent enough in any crowd, but in the right hands served to repel the bobbies who sought to challenge their bodyguard roles, and to help keep their employers safe, the Amazons taking all the physical risks in order to keep the Pankhursts from yet another arrest that might silence them longer than the movement's momentum could afford.
In this, the first of three serial issues of Suffrajitsu, Tony Wolf and illustrator João Vieira introduce the Pankhursts and their Amazons just as things are really heating up, with Parliamentary debates attempting to further discredit the movement and prevent even the consideration, let alone the passage, of the rights bills that inevitably found their way into their chambers. And while the Amazons were a sort of secret society themselves, the police who opposed them were just as secretly told to harrass them, resulting in a sort of secret war that must have terribly bewildered any curious innocents interested in what the Pankhursts had to say, wherever they witnessed the public clashes between the two factions. In that sense, the increasing radicalization of the movement did in fact cause supporters to question it and withdraw their support. Despite taking the utmost care not to do any innocent citizens any harm, the Amazons had become de facto terrorists, and the authorities just as de facto fascists. All of this is presented in the first volume of Suffrajitsu in all it's factual glory, including a cast of characters taken straight from the history books, with a smattering of fictional characters, including the Amazons' field leader, 27-year-old Persephone Wright, presented as a niece of real-life champion of the Pankhursts and of women's rights, Edward Barton-Wright, proprietor of the Bartitsu Club, where women could practice the art of self defense as often and as freely as they liked.
All of this takes place, with the exception of the few fictitious character's roles, in real-life Edwardian Britain, including a penultimate depiction of the "Battle of Glasgow" that pits 50 Scottish policemen against just half their opposite number before Mrs Pankhurst can get past the first four sentences of her speech. It also takes place, however, in a "secret history" that stretches back to ancient times, dubbed "The Foreworld" by its creators Neal Stephenson and Mark Teppo, who along with several other talented authors introduced it in the five novels known as the "Mongoliad Cycle", which in turn had sprung from an experiment in online subscriptions to a serial presentation of their work in progress. The Foreworld is pretty much the same one we all know and have been living in, just "slightly different." The slight differences generally reference secret histories that have continued through the ages, the sort of behind the scenes assertion that says while A & B happened, time has obscured the truth of those events in service of factions that still hadn't seen the light of day by the Pankhurst's time. The first issue of Suffrajitsu illustrates such a view of history by bringing the largely hidden Amazons to the forefront, but by its close makes the first radical departure from the Foreworld's depiction of reality, after over two dozen books and stories that dwell in the shadows behind events (such as a band of 13th century knights traveling across the length of Europe and into Mongolia to rid the world of Genghis Khan's son and successor, a plausible enough explanation of his demise because in the deepness of centuries-old history, who can say it didn't happen?) Tony Wolf, however, has made quite a sensational departure from reality at the end of this story, and no talk about secret histories can hide it. Which breathes terribly fresh life into the Foreworld franchise, setting it up for all sorts of new kinds of story-telling in an already rich fictional universe, as well as promising to finally bring to light some of the secrets and conspiracies that drive the Foreworld through the centuries. Whether you are a Foreworld fan already, or new to the franchise, that means promising times ahead, as the Saga threatens to become just about as inventively complicated as the Marvel universe.