Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Betty, Dee, Ed Brisson, Hannah, Image, Kurtis J. Wiebe, Meg Dejamu, Rat Queens, Roc Upchurch, Violet
Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Art by Roc Upchurch
Creative consulting by Meg Dejamu
Letters by Ed Brisson
Published by Image
I have this thing with fantasy fiction. Always have done, ever since Tolkien spent endless pages talking about trees. I know, I KNOW, great of English literature, amazing book but…too many pages on trees for me. That’s the thing that I get caught up on every time with fantasy, not so much the trees these days but the stolid, plodding sense of pace. When I find fantasy books that don’t do this, I shout them from the rooftops (Fierce Dreamer by Laure Eve and The Red Knight by KT Davies both EXCELLENT and totally worth your time for example).
That brings us to Rat Queens and the reason why I’m standing on a rooftop with a megaphone yelling about a comic. Admittedly the rooftop is ‘my office’ in this instance and the megaphone is ‘the internet’ but you get the idea.
The Rat Queens are an adventuring squad. Betty is short, fond of goblins, food and sex, often all at once. Hannah is the technical genius balancing magic and science with a bad attitude and Dee is a reformed dark god cultist who still rocks a squid-shaped belt buckle. Finally, Violet is the most armour clad of the four, and the most…well…stabby. Technically they’re heroines, in practice? They’re more hurricanes. After yet more mayhem and yet more bloodshed, they and the other adventuring groups in their region are handed out punishment detail. This is not a new experience for them and they take it with a combination of apathy and pride at just how much trouble they’ve caused.
But unknown to them, assassins are targeting the adventuring squads. The Rat Queens have got a fight on their hands and it’s even odds as to which one of them is the most relieved.
This is a book that likes to scrap and has fun doing it. Literally the first time we see the Queens is back to back in the middle of an immense throw down. One they are of course winning. From there Wiebe’s script unpacks the idea of adventuring squads and explores them as the hideous menace to society they’d undoubtedly be. These are people who kick in doors in dungeons and fight monsters not just for cash but because they like it. They’re profoundly powerful, extremely useful and almost entirely incapable of playing well in modern society. Hence the punishment detail and, I suspect, the assassins.
That by itself would be fun, and place the book within sight of the always marvellous Skullkickers in terms of subject matter. However, the book goes off in a very fun, very different direction thanks to the all-female cast. There are no punches pulled here at all, no sense of these characters being watered down because of their gender. These women really like what they do, whether that’s fighting, drinking, sex or all three. They get badly hurt, they swear, they banter, they bicker and at absolutely no point do they read like anything other than four fiercely competent characters. Absolute top marks to their costume design too, with all of them remarkably clothed and Violet especially clearly dressed with combat in mind. Within a page you’re interested, within three you’re hooked and by the end of the book you want to find out not only what’s going to happen next but what led these women here. Dee and Hannah’s backstories are hinted at as being especially interesting and I’m looking forward to the book exploring them.
It also helps, a lot, that the book looks as good as it does. Upchurch’s art is character heavy but light on its feet, the action flowing with speed and total brutality. There’s some really smart fight psychology here, especially with Betty using her miniscule size to get close to their opponents and hurt them very badly, very quickly. The art’s as comfortable with character moments as well and the moment where they stop for a meal is especially great, playing like an unusually sweary comedy beat from My Little Pony. Brisson’s letters round things off nicely, as light on their feet as the art but with just as much heft.
This is a hell of a debut and I’m completely unsurprised it’s sold out at Diamond. A second printing is apparently on the way and when it comes? Get it. Firstly because it’s great and every single team member is on top of their game, and secondly if you don’t? The Rat Queens will find out. And you do not these women angry at you…
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