Review – Rat Queens (Vol. 1-3)
Let us begin with a disclaimer:
The nature of this comic and any links included herein are NSFW
With that out of the way, allow me to invite you all to sink your teeth into an ongoing favourite of mine, albeit one that’s still in its relative infancy. Rat Queens is a comic book series that follows the journey of the titular adventuring party through a world of fantasy, excitement, magic, war, sex, drugs and bardic music. The first issue published under Image Comics in 2013, so this review may be a little late in the game, but the third volume was released a few days ago and it is incredible.
I swear one day I’ll review something more critically without it reading like an advert, but for now please allow me another moment to share some love for something else I love.
First of all, the party themselves:
Hannah – Debatably the leader of the group, if only because she’s most frequently pictured in the front lines, not something you’d expect of a wizard – even a necromancer – but it entirely suits her stubborn and aggressive outlook on life. Here is a woman who knows exactly what she wants and is intelligent enough how to get it, even if it’s a bad idea, a perfect example of high intelligence versus high wisdom if ever there was one. Her past has a rather dark edge, which suits her “dark and edgy” fashion choices, note the hair tied into high bunches to disguise the horns.
Violet – Violet started shaving her beard years ago, as soon as all the girls started doing it she wanted to grow hers back, she looks better with a beard. Oh, also, she’s a dwarf. Like most dwarves she’s tough, aggressive, stubborn, loyal to a fault, and the hardest drinker of the party. Like the other Queens she’s fiercely individual, which is where the dwarven heritage falls apart, because Vi has broken a lot of the old traditions and burned quite a few bridges in the process.
Dee – Atheism is not a strong trait for a cleric, but when your god is a tentacled horror for eldritch planes of existence bent on the destruction of life you can appreciate why someone might rebel against their church. It could have been a sheltered life in the cult or the terrible mind-altering revelation that broke the sincerely held beliefs of her youth, but Dee does not cope well in crowds, she’s pretty much the epitome of an introvert because not matter how much she wants to party with the other girls, she’s so much happier ear-deep in a book. It should also be noted she deals better with her emotional problems than the others.
Betty – Oh, where to begin with Betty? The drugged out peace loving assassin who even tries to kill people in a friendly way, happy to share from her deep bag of candy in the afterlife. Betty lives life to the absolute fullest, where’s her heart on a string attached to her wrist like a kids mitten, and pours every ounce of emotion a 3’2″ish body can hold. She’s actually surprisingly perceptive, especially when it involves larceny, confectionery, or mind-altering substances, and despite her expressive tendencies she’s as tough as nails in the company of her friends.
It’s a cast you can’t help but love, all four of the protagonists are memorable, come with their own package of strengths and problems, and together they’re a real force to be reckoned with. Even supporting characters, given their brief appearances, are just as heart-warming as the better developed main cast. Braga the orcish warrior, Hannah’s best “friend” Tizzie, the Four Daves, fill the world with life and make the Rat Queens stand out – not as people in a cardboard crowd – but as an impactful part of an already over-burdened populous.
Alright, here’s where my love fades.
Not that the story is lacking, but across the three volumes released so far (amounting to fifteen individual issues and a side-story) there has been only a minimal over-arcing narrative, most of which has been an increasing amount of character building for the four Queens. The details of the world have been unravelled intermittently, scraps of history, major factions, so on and so forth, but it lacks a little cohesion so far.
Issue three left us with something of a cliffhanger, and a rather unpleasant character development at the height of a particularly grim plot arc, and still the aftermath of the previous issue is having something of an impact, so at this early stage it already appears that the series is building towards a rather interesting rolling narrative. It also makes it very easy to jump in at the middle without needing to recap on the events of previous issues, which is a strength for comic writers, but as someone who has grown up addicted to books, television and film, I’ve grown all too accustomed to more pre-planned and long-running stories, and if there is a plan it has yet to reveal itself.
Still, as a character-centric comic each story in its turn has offered further chances to explore these wonderful women and has presented them with opportunities to really come to life, to challenge and be challenged without coming across as infallible heroes. Perhaps I’m speaking as someone who’s not overly accustomed to the comic-book format, but I’d love to see a plot that strings me along for more than five issues. Roll on Volume 4.
“Well written” at this point I feel should go without saying, but I’d be doing the author, Kurtis J. Wiebe, a great disservice by not acknowledging his skills. Art has changed hands a few times, starting in early issues with Roc Upchurch before events not to be discussed here forced new artists to be recruited, most notably Tess Fowler who has acquired much of the duty, and a favourite deviantArt follow of mine Stjepan Sejic drew a few issues and many front covers as a result of his shameless fanart posts of the characters. A full list of the artists can be found on the Wikipedia page, and I highly recommend having a look through their work.
Rat Queens has proven to be something of an inspiration, with many, many women seizing upon the diverse cast and incredible costumes as a rich vein of cosplay inspiration. In fact the comic was so readily welcomed that it was optioned for a television series in 2014, the year after the first issue was published, although news on that front has been practically non existent since that early announcement.
At this point I’m sure it goes without saying that I love this comic, and that I recommend it unquestioningly. Within days of receiving my copy through the post it was already being passed around friends while I sat to one side listening to them giggle, and unashamedly leaning over and saying “Did you get to the dragon yet?” Pick up Rat Queens if you’re a fan of fantasy or role-play styled comedy such as Journey Quest, Goblins or Order of the Stick, or because I said so, and I am frequently right.