This is D.C., here to throw down on probably one of the oddest choices of comic I picked up: Rat Queens, by Image Comics.
I came across Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery a month ago at Barnes & Noble and was perplexed. Fantasy, especially of the “Lord of the Rings” style was never my cup of tea. But then I said, “To hell with it,” and decided to broaden my horizons.
Rat Queens is a fantasy-comedy about a quartet of women in a village called Palisade: Hannah, a mage; Violet, a sword-slinging dwarf; Dee, a human cleric; and Betty, wily smidgen…I don’t even know what a smidgen is. All I know is it’s smaller than a dwarf.
So here’s my opinion of this book:
Da good stuff
Volume 1 of Rat Queens hits the ground running in terms of comedy and action. There seriously are no dull moments, as written by Kurtis J. Weibe.
The four protagonists are the epitome of girl power. Each of them are sassy, powerful, and intelligent women who clearly need no man to help them. My personal favorites were Hannah and Violet. Hannah is just so full of sass and, even among her teammates in the Rat Queens, she is so sure of herself and doesn’t give a care how (most) people see her. Hannah’s personality is so strong, yes you can see her fragile side when she interacts with Sawyer
I’m also a bit biased, because I’ve always had a thing for mages in video games, a la Final Fantasy:
Violet showed herself to have a somewhat stronger moral compass than the other Rat Queens…or at least somewhat more honorable. She is a brash character that seems to have a chip on her shoulder (as well as a sensible head there), buther short interaction with the most important person in her life adds an interesting side to the otherwise harsh dwarf.
Dee surprised me the most of the four protagonists. Her character design gave me the impression that she’d be some sort of wild animal, or even something sultry. Towards the end of Volume 1, we see that Dee has such an introverted personality that it makes communicating with her awkward. It was a refreshing turn in the end of the book.
Betty…She has more depth to her than I thought at the end of this volume. She honestly annoyed me with her somewhat adolescent behavior (part of her quirks, so it’s purely my opinion), but her interaction with a potential love interest shows that even this carefree smidgen can have moments of uncertainty and sadness. She’s much smarter than she appears, and for an investigator like me…I find it extremely appealing.
Rat Queens did well shed some light on the many characters without having to be blatant about character history. The snippets provided made me wonder what those moments meant, and made me realize that there is more to see about each character.
The interactions between the Rat Queens themselves was very fluid and natural. How each woman treated the other when they interacted was very genuine.
Roc Upchurch’s art is done very well. I can’t find much to describe it, except that it’s crisp, clean, and fits the tone and genre of a fantasy-comedy. The body parts aren’t drawn out of proportion, aside from the orcs and smidgens–which were meant to be so. But the body proportions look appropriate in general.
The best thing to me about Rat Queens is that the four protagonist aren’t unbeatable. They’re not so badass that they can just defeat anyone easily. The Rat Queens aren’t perfect in their teamwork, such as when Hannah tried to a different tactic than what the other three proposed. And she gets her arm crushed as a result:
To me, it’s more enjoyable to see a team that NOT perfect, one that can make serious mistakes. A team that actually needs each other to succeed (none of that “friendship makes us strong!” nonsense you see in manga/anime).
Da not-so-good stuff
This will sound prudish of me, but my biggest beef with Rat Queens was the abundant profanity. I have no qualms about profanity (and indulge in it often), but I felt that there was too much profanity in these first five issues. Not only were some of the choices of words weird (“shitcakes,” “fucktarts?”), but the sheer amount distracted me to the point that it wasn’t always funny.
I’ve always had a dislike of mainstream media including drugs in their stories. To me, a lot writers/artists only include drugs to cater to a modern audience like ours, or because they just believe it’s a normal thing to do now. Like all things, I feel even drugs has its place in a story for a particular reason. In Rat Queens, I feel it’s there just because. It’s an unnecessary and callous element to have in there.
While Violet, Hannah, and Betty each had the spotlight in their own ways, I felt that Dee received far less. Nothing about her really stood out to me, aside from her surprisingly introverted personality. That was enjoyable to see of Dee. The fortunate part was that the end of Volume 1 very much alluded to adventures dealing with a figure related to Dee’s past.
Oddly enough, there were ZERO captions in this book. Not even a “Meanwhile…”
I look at captions as the writer exercising their literary skill to help the reader understand what is going on. It’s not mandatory, as Rat Queens has clearly shown, but it IS an effective literary device. What would happen if no character is speaking, and they’re lost in their own thoughts or feelings? Wouldn’t captions help the reader to understand what the characters are experiencing? Sometimes body language is insufficient.
Does the writer have no skill in caption writing? I wonder.
(If you want to see how well a literary device captions are, you can read my blog on Miracleman.)
The creative team could and should exercise their literary chops beyond just character speech. We’ll just have to see in later issues how the writer tackle this.
Rat Queens, Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery is a lavish romp in a fantasy world the features a strong cast and very strong women. The protagonists, and even several supporting characters, received some spotlight into their behaviors, histories, and–perhaps most importantly–their personalities. Each character had his or her own quirks that set them apart from the next character, which left me very pleased and hungry to know more about them.
For RPG or MMORPG fans, this comics reads and performs almost like those type of games, with the clear battle classes, and how certain skills and abilities are indicative of those classes. It’s a treat.
While the four main characters were clearly 3-dimensional, I felt there were unnecessary elements in this story, especially in terms of drug use and an inordinate amount of profanity that detracted from an otherwise funny and exciting story. Whether that will distract YOU, however, is a matter of opinion.
After what I heard from the creative team at Wondercon, I think I’ll buy Volume 2 of Rat Queens, just to see if gets better. All in all, this book has more than earned another shot.