The first time I heard about Rat Queens was through Critical Role, a Thursday night Twitch program where a group of (incredibly accomplished and delightfully dorky) voice actors play Dungeons and Dragons. I used to be more of a comic book fan in my junior high and high school years, but that fell to the wayside as the writers I loved stopped producing as many works in that medium. But in the last twelve years there has been such an advance in the industry that I’m excited to return and see where the journey takes me.
Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe, the initial run of prints emerged in September 2013 after being picked up by Image Comics. You can feel the heavy influence of D&D throughout ever fight scene, and there are many. The artist for this run was Roc Upchurch, a man who was later replaced after charges of domestic violence arose. On that sour note, let the review begin!
I’d like to start out with my initial feelings as I began to read; disappointment. The first few pages imply the characters have little by way of a moral compass, and are determined to do whatever they want, when they want, because their kingdom is peaceful and they are bored. I also hadn’t paid any mind to who wrote the darn thing; it would be nice to have a more consistent female hand in the creative process. Sometimes it feels like attempts at writing non-stereotypical females just results in characters behaving like your stereotypical college frat boy. They want to drink, get high, and have sex, all the while throwing as many curse words into the mix as possible and making everyone around them miserable. With the exception of the latter, I am completely OK with people choosing to do any combination of those things, but at least give me a reason for their behavior outside of boredom.
OK… not exactly the most promising of beginnings, but I was willing to give these ladies a chance, especially after being introduced to other groups of adventuring types that call their town home. It’s not just the Rat Queens who are under arrest for disturbing the peace and destroying public property, and the other parties are quirky little portraits of the types of role playing groups you might find, from humorous (The Four Daves), to Vampire the Masquerade (Obsidian Darkness).
Volume 1 sets us up for a longer quest, so there is a lot of character introduction but not a lot in the way of development. We see small glimpses of everyone’s story, and throughout the course of unraveling the first few questions I found myself more and more endeared to the main four, with the exception of Hannah, who seems very ready to make snap decisions and get angry at people even if it causes her friends trouble. She complains about almost everything and the only thing that seems to make her happy is getting wasted and hurting others. I knew a lot of those girls growing up, and still have to encounter them as women- She won’t be enough to turn me away from further reading, but I won’t be joining her fans any time soon.
Our other ladies are as follows; Dee, socially anxious, she came from a loving family that just so happens to worship a flying tentacled god the same way your intense Evangelical family from back east worships god. “No matter how far you run, his love will find you.” May not sound creepy to them, but it is, and it’s humorous seeing those same lines delivered in a bog that is probably full of Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar instead of water. Dee doesn’t believe in gods, but she still uses divine power to cast her spells. Her reason for that? “I’m goddess enough.” Oh helllll yes, sister.
Next up we have Betty, a Smidgen (this continuities gnome or halfling). She likes drugs, candy, theft, and sex. In spite of these stereotypical cute, rogue-girl qualities, she’s endearing, with a fun sense of humor and a desire to have a successful date with fellow cute girl Faeyri. She makes weird, bad jokes and is scrappy as all get out. She would be right at home rolling at a warehouse party or breaking into a high security vault, though she would certainly prefer the former.
Last but not least is Violet, our lovely Dwarven lady who shaved her beard as an act of rebellion and left her home and twin brother behind. Practical, intelligent, and blunt, she makes bad jokes about her sword and fights like a boulder in a landslide. We don’t know why she left her family behind, besides that she did it for herself, to find out who she was. And I respect that.
Like I said, the story is fast, with a lot of fighting and introductions, but I’m looking forward to reading the following chapters. My main complaint is the lack of women attached to it’s creation, and I’m curious as to whether we’d be getting as much cleavage and pointlessly hard nipples if there was. I feel like after the first chapter or two he got some more feedback from females and that helped give them more depth then just constantly talking about sex, alcohol, and drugs. I’d love to see a female artist come in for more than just a volume, as well.
I have no complaints about the art style itself, having read comics from as far back as 1968 (Hello, Silver Surfer!), the slightly sketchy style is fine by me. The coloring is done well and there are never any incredibly strange features that detract from the story. It’s unfortunate that Upchurch is forever tied to the project, and I’m afraid if he returns I’ll no longer want to support the series. His art is fine, but it feels so wrong having a man connected to domestic violence also attached to a project about ass-kicking women. The writing isn’t a show stopper, but there were a few jokes that actually made me laugh out loud, and that doesn’t happen very often while I’m reading. Every page made sense, however, and there was never any confusion from the arrangement of panels or speech bubbles.
Final Conclusion: If you like comics and humor and women, you’ll probably enjoy this. If you ever played a pen and paper RPG, especially Dungeons and Dragons, you will like it. There’s a lot of controversy involving this series, but it is genuinely enjoyable. There’s three volumes available right now, and two new chapters have been published this year, with two more on the horizon.
Buy Rat Queens Volume 1 from the Book Depository .