I recently did some impulse buying of comic books. You hear about so many good series, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. Picking up on various recommendations, I purchased the volume one trade paperbacks of The Wicked + The Divine, Chew, Morning Glories, Invincible, The Massive, Sex Criminals, and Rat Queens. I’d heard about Rat Queens in reference to a trend of more badass female characters making their way into comics that manage to avoid the standard visual depictions as purely sexual objects. This was where my knowledge of the series began and ended.
I’m not sure if my complete lack of expectations helped, but I was absolutely blown away by Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery. This is what comic books should be – full of action, great characters, and an enormous helping of humour. Rat Queens is so tongue in cheek it is remarkable that the writer, Kurtis J Wiebe, managed to break through the light-hearted, comedic aspects and provide some genuine threat – and heart – in the narrative as well.
It’s safe to say that Image Comics have well and truly overtaken Vertigo as my favourite comic book publisher.
The Rat Queens are one of several groups of mercenaries stationed in a small town. Their drinking and general bad behaviour leaves them out of favour with the mayor and the town’s citizens. Sent on an assignment that promises to have very little pay out, the girls walk into a trap.
Someone has arranged assassins to hunt them down and take them out. They survive the encounter, only to discover the conspiracy is worse than they thought. The assassins are taking out all the mercenaries, not just the Rat Queens. But who is behind it? And can they win out? Oh, and what about those angry ass trolls?!
Girls of different shapes and sizes
One of the reasons this series has had so much press is that it portrays women as actual human beings. Who would have thought comic book readers would like to see that?! All the women in Rat Queens are very different: short, tall, thin, thick-set, blonde, brunette, red head… they are of different species and different skin colours with completely varied cultural backgrounds and personalities. And on top of all that, Wiebe manages to get across all this diversity of character without tedious exposition dumps or a heavy-handed reliance on stereotypes.
The variety of personality types present in each of the ‘Queens’ allows the writer to move away from stereotypes such as the hard, unfeeling woman vs the soft, gentle one. All of these women are very real, with their own interpretations of what it means to be strong, feminine, and alive. Immediately, their role as mercenaries and adventurers, the muscle for a small town, is something new for most tales of this type.
What Dungeons and Dragons could be
Dungeons and Dragons is all about adventurers, well, adventuring. Whether you’ve decided you are mercenaries, missionaries, or mad escaping prisoners, the journey you are about to embark on will have you facing countless baddies in a host of different situations. Reading Rat Queens immediately made me think of playing DnD and how I wished I could have thought up such awesome characters when building my character’s backstory.
I don’t know what your DnD marathons turn into, but for me they usually involve crude sexual jokes, references to alcoholism or drug addiction, and general bad behaviour. So having a kind of epic fantasy story in comic book form felt refreshing and yet familiar when it included all of these themes. Too many epic fantasies get all high and mighty, forgetting that adventurers like to have fun and that fun can include sex, drugs, and rock n roll. It doesn’t matter what fictional time/technological period the story is set in, drugs have always been around. As such, Rat Queens injects new life into the epic fantasy genre that has become far too stuffy and overblown (or maybe it always was).
Verdict: This is one of the best comic book series I’ve picked up – ever. It had me hooked immediately and I cannot wait to continue reading. Everyone should pick this up, especially if you have a deliciously off-beat and un-PC sense of humour (as I do).