Posts Tagged ‘Dungeons and Dragons’

 

 

 

 

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critical-role-castI’m only 65 episodes behind the curve, but I’m a fast learner when it comes to the fun, entertaining, and surprisingly heartfelt Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) web series, Critical Role. A live broadcast and weekly peek into a world beset with ancient dragons, barbarian hoards, and some rather unconventional gnomes, Critical Role follows the exploits of Vox Machina, a group of mostly heroic adventurers as they traverse the fictional land of Tal’Dorei. The intrepid band of misfits, however, are brought to life by an equally, and mostly, heroic group of dice-slinging voice actors, all of whom have been playing their characters for three years; two on the live stream and one year prior to the inception of the show. The characters and their actors are as follows:

  • Vax’ildan “Vax” (Liam O’Brien) – a half-elf rogue/paladin and twin brother to Vex’ahlia
  • Vex’ahlia “Vex” (Laura Bailey) – a half-elf ranger/rogue and twin sister to Vax’ildan who also has a pet bear named Trinket
  • Grog Strongjaw (Travis Willingham) – a goliath barbarian
  • Keyleth (Marisha Ray) – a half-elf druid
  • Percival de Rolo “Percy” (Taliesin Jaffe) – also known as Percival Fredrickstein Von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III, a human gunslinger
  • Scanlan Shorthalt (Sam Riegel) – a gnome bard
  • Pike Trickfoot (Ashley Johnson) – a gnome cleric

And guiding our heroes in their exploits is the world-building powerhouse of a Dungeon Master (DM) that is Matthew Mercer. Pulling some impressive double-duty, Mercer not only crafts the realm of Tal’Dorei but he also effortlessly voices all of the non-playable characters (NPC), running the gamut of high-born ladies, lowly orcs, and a thoroughly confused bear.

I’ve only played D&D, and some other tabletop games, a few times in my life with varying degrees of DM and party performance, but I can say wholeheartedly that this is the first time in a long time that I’ve ever wanted to get back into gaming. Hell, this is the first time in a long time I’ve wanted to join somebody else’s game just to experience the energy and absolute fun they have for roughly three hours every Thursday night. The camaraderie of the players and the DM is infectious because they’re just as invested in the welfare of their characters, just as shocked when a plot twist occurs, and just as devastated when events go horribly, horribly wrong. To put it another way, they love their characters and it shows to the point where even a husk of human emotions like myself can get a little teary-eyed.

So, really, this is just an overblown, non-ranked list of reasons why I’m now obsessed with Critical Role. Trust me, it doesn’t disappoint.

Oh, and SPOILERS for the series. Just in case.

 

The Gameplay

 

This seems like a no-brainer, but a significant portion of what makes Critical Role such a success comes from how the players, and by extension the characters, interact with their fictional environment. Setting aside the little character moments and exploratory missions (we’ll get to them in a bit), when Mercer tells the party to roll initiative to battle some greater foe, they’re in it. No one slouches, everyone pulls their weight to support the success of the group in destroying beasts and baddies alike. The physicality of the players speaks louder and louder as the battle rages: eyes wide, mouths agape, everyone fidgeting with nervous energy at each role of the die. Full sessions have been devoted to taking down one enemy (to be fair, it was a dragon) until Mercer asks, “How do you wanna do this?” and the whole group explodes with excitement knowing that the killing blow is just moments away. I’d be lying if I said my own erratic movements didn’t mimic theirs. Even smaller, more desperate, moments are rife with tension as the characters struggle against mind control or frantically try to resurrect one of their own.reaction

There are a couple of episodes that stand out in particular regarding moments of triumph and potential tragedy. In the case of the former, I’d recommend episode 52, “The Kill Box,” wherein Grog, unable to defeat his uncle, leader of the barbarian herd, in single combat, calls upon his friends for help. There are plenty of moments where each character shines but the best bit of teamwork comes when Vex flies in on her broom (long story) and sucks a badly beaten Grog into her necklace (just go with it) to get him somewhat out of harms way. She then releases Grog from high up in the air, giving him the advantage needed to deliver the deathblow to his uncle. It’s definitely an engaging three hours of fictionalized combat and by the end even the players look exhausted. In the case of the latter, it would have to be episode 44, “The Sunken Tomb,” that finds the party searching for enchanted armor beneath the city of Vasselheim. Neglectful in the wake of defeating a Beholder, Percy accidentally sets off a trap that kills Vex, but the party, joined by some guest adventurers, springs into action to bring her back. It’s really more about Laura Bailey’s reactions as well as the other players. The second she realizes what negative hit points means there’s this gutted look on her face as the others search for spells to resurrect Vex. Everyone’s practically in tears until Mercer informs them that she’s alive again.

 

Character Moments

 

It would either be awfully dull or too stressful to watch a group in a constant state of combat. Luckily, the players are actors and they act the shit out of these characters. While some episodes are combat heavy, there are others where the most action that happens is the group goes shopping and some epic haggling ensues. The breathers are needed, though. It gives the party time to rest and recuperate and it gives us, the audience, a few moments alone (so to speak) with the characters, all of whom have their own little story arcs, wants and desires, that tend to overlap with the main story. There are too many character moments to name, and all of them have landed some fantastic one-liners or shared some tears, so here are a few favorites:tumblr_nl9tzk10pe1r201t0o2_1280

  • Vex and Vax – pretty much every episode has a nice moment or two between the twins, Episode 40 has a brutally emotional scene as Vax pleads with Vex not to stray too far from his side in the wake of a dragon attack, but one of my favorites involves some boots, ghostly servants, water and flour, and some brother/sister heckling (Episode 56, “Hope”).
  • Grog and Pike – after Grog purchases a new, badass hat, Pike decides to try it on and takes it for a run (Episode 57, “Duskmeadow”).
  • Keyleth – I’m pretty partial to the druid princess’s awkward high fives after some kind of emotional admission (Episode 44, “The Sunken Tomb,” and Episode 65, “The Streets of Ank’Harel”)
  • Scanlan – any time Scanlan sings to inspire. Anytime (All episodes) Also…Spice? You spice? (Episode 65)
  • Percy – there are a lot of very sweet moments where Percy waxes poetic or wallows a bit, but it’s really when he’s acting like a spoiled rich kid that he shines. His attempt to get Scanlan’s daughter out of prison is a particular favorite (Episode 39, “Omens”)
  • Group Effort – that time opening a wooden door was a nearly impossible task (Episode 29, “Whispers”)

 

Matthew Mercer is Amazing!

 

This can’t be effectively described in words. You have to see and experience just how great of a DM Mercer is. Just know that his character work, as well as his world-building, is phenomenal.

Charity

 

The cast and crew of Critical Role have been supporters of the charity 826LA since the beginning, encouraging fans to donate during the broadcast on Geek & Sundry and thanking those who do on air. However, due to the overwhelming generosity and creativity of their fans that made for some sweet Critmas day unwrapping, the players each chose a charity for fans to support in lieu of the money going to smaller items like dice bags or gigantic bear statues that take up space and are hard to store.

D&D For The Good of All

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We’ve definitely come a long way from the days of Mazes and Monsters, but there are still certain stigmas associated with gaming and gamers that keep people who might find RPGs to be a pleasant experience. Currently, we’re in a bit of a cultural upswing in regards to D&D-style role-playing. I don’t know what, if any, influence Critical Role has had where the bigger picture is concerned, but it’s certainly at the forefront of the pro-gaming change to the status quo. Not only do we have Critical Role, but Matt Mercer and Ashley Johnson are part of the Force Grey filmed RPG show for Nerdist. There’s also Dan Harmon’s Harmon Quest on Seeso that mixes live role-playing with animation and one of the best shows on Netflix, Stranger Things, features the main characters playing D&D as bookends to the series. Small steps, yes, but important nonetheless.

So those are the reasons why I’m currently obsessed with Critical Role. Maybe this encouraged you to check it out or maybe you’re already a fan. Either way, what are your thoughts on the show? What are your favorite moments? Characters? I’m eager to know.

Oh, and…Is it Thursday yet?

My Dearest, Rat Queens,

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Art by Roc Upchurch

After learning that your book will be going on hiatus for the foreseeable future, I thought I’d take a moment to let the four of you know what you’ve meant to me since your first issue debuted three years ago. While I have confidence that you’ll return to my comic book shelves someday, in case we don’t see each other for a while it’s important that I express these feelings as I am not an overly sentimental person by nature. At least not in a public forum.

Hannah, Betty, Dee, and Violet…you’re the best. There are certainly bigger words to describe you but from the most sincere facets of my heart, that’s all I need to say. I’ve been with you since the beginning. I’ve followed this small drop in what I can only hope for and imagine is an ocean’s worth of adventures, but in that short amount of time you’ve all become precious to me. Yes, I’ve been reading comics for some time and I’ve read plenty of stories featuring all-women groups, but yours is the perfect storm of writing, artistry, commentary, and timing that is difficult to sell and even harder to sustain.

So let me tell you what I wish I’d had in my younger days and the void you might have filled then but overflows now.

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Art by Stjepan Sejic

I wish I’d had a book that elevated the value of misfit families. It took a long time for me to find my questing group. I struggled with friendships, preferring to spend my time alone, but when that group finally formed I held on tight because it meant the world to me. It still does. Finding your family of choice, the people who value you outside of any biological ties, the ones who put up with your less than stellar personality traits because they’re dwarfed by your lovable quirks, the ones that push you and challenge you and make you better because there’s another voice and a pair of ears to listen means everything. Hell, just having someone to hug you without saying a word or requiring something in return is the most valuable currency I can think of. Rat Queens honors that love between friends even in the most dire moments. It celebrates the formation of a new family and dares to mourn its loss.

I wish I’d had a book that posited the damage of traditions, organized religion, institutions, and cultural norms. When I was a teenager, I had my greatest crisis of faith but it was hard to articulate those feelings when I lacked the freedom of adulthood to explore what it truly meant. My father and I were in constant conflict over our differing religious convictions – he renewing them as a born-again and I still crafting and solidifying a world view separate from what I’d been taught. For many years we fought a domestic war of ideals and philosophy, but it was overwhelming at times and in my darker moments it wasn’t hard to see the value in silence. In the world of Rat Queens there is space for everyone even if they have to carve it out for themselves. Within the fantastical walls of Palisade the text and subtext is clear: bucking stagnant systems is to be encouraged, pointing out logical fallacies will be rewarded, and acceptance is the rule not the exception.

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Art by Tess Fowler

I wish I’d had a book that was so unapologetically badass in its art, attitude, and language. As modern fantasies go, Rat Queens blends the two seamlessly. It’s as much a love letter to Dungeons and Dragons style role playing games as it is an exploration of female friendship. I wish I’d had a book with female characters as brash, witty, and sincere in their feelings towards each other and the world around them. Growing up with media that always emphasized the “token chick” as something to strive for, I know in my heart or hearts that I would’ve jumped at the chance to watch or read about a group of friends working together and giving each other shit independent of another generic group of male characters. The credit, of course, goes to the creative team and their tireless efforts to bring readers a unique experience in the most unique of places. So thank you Kurtis J. Wiebe, Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Šejić, Tess Fowler, Tamra Bonvillain, Kelly Fitzpatrick, and Ed Brisson. Thank you for Hannah, Dee, Betty, and Violet. Thank you for Sawyer, Old Woman Bernadette, Tizzie, Braga, the Four Daves, Lola, and even Gary. Thank you for what you’ve created and what you will continue to create. Even if Rat Queens is on hiatus for a considerable amount of time, your work is still here and it will enrich more lives by virtue of its existence.

So in conclusion, everything is still awesome about the Rat Queens and until the day those lovely ladies dock at Palisade, or on some distant shore, I’ll be waiting patiently on the widow’s walk eager for their return.

Love and Kisses,

Sam

P.S. I’m still pretty sure Gary had something to do with this. Seriously, Gary. Fuck you.

I’m certain those of you who grew up watching Animaniacs will recall the lovely short “I’m Mad” wherein Dot Warner expresses her frustration with oldest brother Yakko via the very succinctly stated, “I’m mad. I’m mad. I’m really, really, really mad!” Well, let me just say that Dot has become my spirit animal in the wake of reading Rat Queens #15 and a subsequent re-reading of the entire arc written by Kurtis J. Wiebe with art by Tess Fowler and colors by Tamra Bonvillain. Issues #11-15 mark a turning point in the Rat Queens story, but one of the Queens won’t be following the same path.RatQueens_15-1

Obviously there are spoilers here, so beware and all that jazz.

A while back the cover for Rat Queens #16 started circulating and unless you’d gone blind in the last few weeks, it wasn’t hard to figure out that Hannah, the group’s profanely hilarious mage, was noticeably absent. In my review for issue #14, I expressed my concern for where the story was headed and what it would mean for the girls as a whole. Unfortunately, my fears came true as Hannah and the Queens parted ways in a manner that still makes me want to hurl bricks at buildings while simultaneously setting fire to and salting the earth.

This is by no means a condemnation of the story. Far from it. It’s well done with wonderful, gut-punching dialogue with a few pacing issues, but there’s never a moment where it didn’t feel like Rat Queens or the characters didn’t ring true. If anything they rang too true, so think of this as proof of how invested I am in Hannah, Violet, Dee, and Betty’s friendship and the supposedly safe space Wiebe built for them within the walls of Palisade. But like Jericho, the walls came a’tumbling down. Gods helps me, though, I’ll find some way to blame this on Gary because fuck that guy!

In case you need a refresher: the Queens traveled to Mage University, Hannah’s old stomping grounds, to help free her father Gerard after he and several students attacked the university’s governing body, the Council of Nine. During their time on campus, Dee reunited with her brother Senoa and began making plans to destroy N’Rygoth, Betty’s past began to catch up with her, Violet got a new sword from a dragon’s (sorry – Daniel’s) hoard, and Hannah learned the truth about her father and his involvement with the Council of Nine after her mother was killed.

That’s all to say that things go steadily downhill from moment one in the final issue. While I love the symmetry of past-Hannah facing the Council of Nine in a similar manner to how Gerard faced them at the beginning of issue #11, the scene and the attack that follows set up an important thematic moment about truth, trust, and the bonds of friendship. Since before their arrival at the university, Hannah hasn’t been completely honest with her friends about her intentions in regards to freeing her father or the actual circumstances behind her expulsion banishment from campus. Unfortunately, the Queens hear Senoa’s version of how things went down first: Hannah was under the influence of a demon and used its power to attack the Council of Nine after they’d kicked her out of school. Hannah refutes most of Senoa’s story except for one particular detail, she was under no one’s influence. She was fully in control of herself when she attacked the Council and she’s ready to replay her greatest hits in order to save her father. The Queens, Dee especially, don’t exactly see her plan as a sound one but the words they use to convey those sentiments are chosen poorly. Hannah walks away believing her friends have abandoned her and by issue’s end it seems as though they have.

ratqueens 15The final pages are frustrating to read. As someone who’s been an avid fan of Rat Queens from the beginning it’s upsetting to watch the friendship of these four women crumble. The sad truth, though, is this is sometimes how friendships in the real world come to an end. Granted it usually doesn’t involve demons, mages, and Smidgens, but that’s also not what ultimately separates Hannah from the others. It’s them; all four of the Queens share responsibility. Their words and their choices send Hannah into the arms of her former power-enhancing demon and the others to resignedly sail back to Palisade. This is an important point where the story is concerned because Wiebe could have easily fallen back on the trope of body possession or demonic influence to explain Hannah’s actions then and now. It’s a tried and true way of letting a character do horrible things without taking responsibility since it “wasn’t really them.” Not with the Rat Queens, oh no! Wiebe goes for the hard truth and it’s heartbreaking to see unfold thanks to the beautifully emotive artwork of Tess Fowler and Tamra Bonvillain. Hannah’s face as she’s being dragged away, bloodied and bruised, by the guards is devastating as well as the real pain exuded by Betty and Violet. These women have been through the shit together and to watch them fall apart is, not gonna lie, rough.

The frustration lingers because it feels like the entire mess could’ve been avoided. If they hadn’t been at Mage U, or if Hannah had been given more time to calm down, or if Dee hadn’t implied that Hannah was still conspiring with the demon, or the guards hadn’t shown up when Betty was holding tightly to Hannah’s leg in desperation, then things might have happened differently.

But they didn’t. It’s a bummer ending that purposefully lacks closure like in real life where nothing ends as cleanly as we’d like. The silver lining, though, is I’m fairly certain this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Hannah. She’s too good of a character for Wiebe to completely sideline and should the “vision” Violet experienced come to pass, then the reunion is going to be epic.

 

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This is going to be a shorter review than you’re probably used to from me, dear reader, but that’s only because I’m pretty sure the next issue of Rat Queens is going to put the preamble of the latest issue into context. It’s the final push before shit starts to go down and, if I’m honest, I’m worried. I’m stressed out because it isn’t just a shoe, but a whole wardrobe’s worth of clothing and accessories, is about to drop on our girls. Something’s about to go down and I don’t know if I can handle the idea of a possible splintering in the girl-power-force-of-badassery that is the Rat Queens.

Quick Recap: The Queens have traveled to Mage University, ostensibly to help Hannah free her father after his revolt against the University’s Council of Nine goes south. While there, Dee reunites with her brother, Senoa, and reveals her plans to destroy N’Rygoth, Violet and Betty get into some shenanigans involving a sled and a dragon, and Hannah has a touching reunion with her deceased mother.

Throughout the latest issue, it’s clear that a confrontation is inevitable, but it’s not just between the Queens and the university. From the moment they arrived, the Queens have been less active in their pursuit of who they need to fight and stab with more time placed on layering their back-to-school-special with heaps of secrets about to be uncovered. Kurtis J. Wiebe has been dropping hints about Hannah’s story since the beginning – a necromancer’s “cell phone”, the black-eyed rage attack, horns, her broken friendship with Tizzie – and now it appears to be coming to a head. Between her reunions with actual demons, her mother, and her father’s heartfelt message, Hannah’s time at Mage U, and what she did to get expelled, are being set up as the emotional center of what could be a devastating blow to the Rat Queens as a team. She’s been lying to them for a long time and lies like that have consequences.

Still, part of the appeal and the strength of the team comes from their misfit ways bringing them together. None of them are innocent of keeping secrets from one another because, let’s be honest, none of us are one hundred percent telling the truth all the time. We hide even from the people we feel closest to because of a number of reasons and we guard ourselves in case those lies are revealed. Hannah is the poster child for deflection, but her feelings of love and loyalty for Dee, Violet, and Betty are soft spots waiting to be exploited from within or outside the group. Thanks to Senoa, Dee knows something Hannah didn’t want her to know, but will that be enough for Hannah to confess or are the girls headed towards a far more epic battle like the one glimpsed briefly by Violet? Come to think of it, was the sword possessing Violet? Did she have a vision of the future? What’s up with that sword?!RatQueens

The art, as always, is fantastic. Tess Fowler’s depiction of the inter-dimensional space is so trippy and cool I want to vacation there. Whales, everyone! There are flying whales! Pretty much every time Fowler gets to stretch her style is pure joy. From candy-hoarding dragons to netherworld realms, it’s every Lisa Frank meets 1970s van art enthusiast’s dream! Tamra Bonvillain’s colors are, again, on point and vibrant as fuck! You wish you lived in a world as colorful as the one she paints! But then you’d probably have a seizure or something. Maybe not. Fifty-fifty at best.

Like I said, this one’s a bit short and sweet – not unlike myself – so I can dive into the next issue with reckless abandon. So go pick up Rat Queens #14 and get with the program!

The road back home never runs smooth and for the Rat Queens there are a lot of unresolved issues hanging over the heads of our fearless women warriors. Still in the town of Dunlas outside of Hannah’s alma mater, Mage University, the Queens’ night of revelry turns bittersweet. Violet thwarts an assassination attempt on Betty by another Smidgen RatQueens_12-1but the group’s resident thief and Mistress of Good Times isn’t surprised by the attack, only disheartened that part of her past might be revealed to her friends. And unbeknownst to the party, Dee takes a brief walk between dimensional portals to check in on the family she left behind. Pressing further towards Mage U, the girls are caught in a freak snowstorm and are forced to seek shelter in the aptly named Dank Cave where Hannah’s past and present collide, putting her friends in danger.

Though we’re only two issues into the new arc, the recent changes that surround Rat Queens feel more pronounced both in the book and behind-the-scenes. In the previous review I praised the new art team of Tess Fowler and Tamra Bonvillain and I’m happy to report that they’re keeping the momentum strong on their second issue. I’m particularly tickled by the amount of joy Fowler adds to the art. Unless they’re given a specific emotion in the script, Fowler easily brings the happy to characters with an overall cynical bent. I’m talking about you, Hannah! Once the Queens are holed up in the Dank Cave, Hannah proceeds to regale her friends with more stories while bragging about her fairly memorable legacy as a student. It’s not hard for the others to believe her since the writing is literally on the wall. Hannah’s face is priceless throughout the whole sequence and the cartoonish way she stares doe-eyed at a skull she once used in a prank demonstrates Fowler’s ability to alter her style to fit the emotions of the character.

Bonvillain’s colors are, of course, a beautiful display of just how vibrant the Rat Queens’ world is regardless of the setting. The greens and purples of Dee’s home-commune evoke a pastoral serenity that seems antithetical to the chthonic god they serve considering the most recent world-shattering encounter. Later, when Hannah runs into, let’s say, an “old friend” in the cave, the darkness surrounding the two has more shades of purple and grey contrasting RatQueensCavewith the brighter reds that Hannah wears and her not-so-boon companion emits.

One of the highlights of getting into stories spun by Kurtis J. Wiebe is the setup. Taking the girls beyond the walls of Palisade is already doing half the job. Without the supporting cast of familiar faces (Sawyer, Braga, Tizzie, even fucking Gary), Wiebe puts the reader in the position of relying solely on the Rat Queens to carry us through the new terrain despite the fact that he’s already laying the foundation for a number of revelations that threaten the strength of the Queens’ friendship. As our leads, we’re accustomed to a certain amount of infighting and bickering that’s ultimately resolved by story’s end, but I’m curious to see how far Wiebe wants to go, especially with Hannah. Given the amount of backstory that been carefully strewn about we could be looking at an even greater world-shattering event on the horizon. Plus, maybe the end of the world. However things go down, I’m intrigued and excited to follow the Rat Queens team down the rabbit hole.

 

P.S. That tunic Violet’s wearing had better end up in the Rat Queens store, or so help me Bilford Bogin…

 

Violet tunic

It’s been a hell of a time for the Rat Queens, internally and externally, but despite some hiccups along the way Kurtis Wiebe’s sophomore arc, The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth, went above and beyond in its storytelling as the Rat Queens and friends fought to save Palisade from the mind-altering squid demons of another dimension. Like ya do. But like everything Wiebe does there’s a greater story being told while the Queens punch, curse, and bring destruction to their enemies with 3964263-07righteous fury. If the first volume, Sass and Sorcery, was our introduction to the world of Rat Queens, then N’Rygoth is our introduction to the people within that world. Now that we have a handle on the personalities and the dynamic between Hannah, Betty, Dee, and Violet, it’s time we got a better idea of who they are and what brought them together.

If we’re going to boil the story down to its nitty-gritty elements, then these are the essentials: Gerrig Lake, the merchant who Old Lady Bernadette hired to “take care” of the quest group problem in Palisade, has been secretly plotting to release demonic beings worshiped by Dee’s religious order to get revenge on Sawyer for the death of his wife. As the demons attack Palisade and its residents, the Rat Queens fight their way to Gerrig’s stronghold, with help from the Four Daves and the Peaches, while trying to stave off the time-altering mind fuckery of the tentacled creatures from beyond. Of course there’s more to the story than just that, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Just know that this is the minimal amount of information you need without being ridiculously spoiled.

That being said…spoilers ahead (unintentional rhyme!).

After the events of the previous volume, the Rat Queens find themselves revisiting their pasts on an epic scale that still manages to feel surprisingly intimate. The arrival of Dee’s husband, Kiah, Hannah’s on-again-off-again relationship with Sawyer, and Violet’s inspirational meeting with the clean-shaven Morgan Meldhammer all speak to the underlying themes of the book: outcasts, acceptance, and misfit families. The need for acceptance and the feeling of belonging has been present from the get-go, but it’s really in N’Rygoth that we see exactly why the world of Rat Queens is so important and why fucktraditionso many people within the comic book community have become ravenous fans. Wiebe stated it very clearly when I interviewed him about the Braga one-shot. Rat Queens is about home and how people from disparate backgrounds come together and create their own families.

This is especially relevant when one looks at the geek community. We’ve often felt isolated because of our interests, but within the communities of fandoms and internet groups, and the rallying point of conventions, we find acceptance and a place where we can be ourselves. Yes, there are times when the creation of like-minded groups causes a great deal of harm, but there are just as many, if not more, cases of groups producing beautiful displays of love, friendship, and family through their bond over something they love. It’s the inclusive nature of Rat Queens that makes us all want to be a part of this world where modern sensibilities meet high fantasy. There’s a reason the book won a GLAAD award. Just sayin’.

From the beginning of the book, Rat Queens has felt fleshed out in a way that many sword and sorcery comics suffer to Broogaccomplish. Wiebe’s grasp of the characters, of the people of Palisade, contains just enough of the man himself and his own experiences that one can’t help feeling his sincerity. While Dee is the character Wiebe identifies with the most, he still manages to weave in similarities between most of the Rat Queens. Dee’s religious community, Violet’s tradition-mired clan, Braga’s stagnate horde of orcs, and the subtle jabs directed at Hannah for being a “demon baby” all drive the point home that narrow-mindedness is poison and isolation breeds intolerance. The saving grace for all of them was finding each other in a place where diversity is the norm. Although we still don’t know much about Betty…for now.

Yeah, if I was going to lob any kind of criticism on a book I clearly love, it’d be that Betty, while present within the story, didn’t have much in the way of character development in this arc. Even in the last two issues she doesn’t have much to say or do except regroup with her friends. I can understand with the focus shifts in the story and the unintended hiatus of the book leading to a shorter narrative that something had to give. It’s not unlike the previous arc where Dee’s background was put aside so her outlook and background could have a more thorough explanation so I’m gonna give Rat Queens the benfit of the doubt and trust that Betty will get her due with the next story.

RatQueens10_Review-hannah-saywer-660x1015As far as the art goes, Rat Queens really can’t fail from a stylistic standpoint. Yes, the circumstances that brought Stjepan Šejić on as the book’s new artist were unfortunate, but the way he renders Roc Upchurch’s designs are fantastic. Šejić brings just as much energy and movement to the book, but it’s in his expressions where he really punches you in the gut. The scene between Hannah and Sawyer in which Hannah reveals that her rockabilly hairdo is actually hiding a pair of horns is pitch perfect. Šejić captures that fleeting moment where Hannah hopefully looks to Sawyer to say the right thing, which goes as well as you might expect, but the impact of that one panel gave me quite the visceral reaction. There was also Dave and Violet’s romance novel kiss, which made me squeal in delight. Of course, it must be mentioned that Tess Fowler’s work on the Braga one-shot was phenomenal! Like Šejić she makes her style work for telling Braga’s tale. There a hint of adorkability that makes the pages feel warmer, more inviting – that would also be the work of colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick – even when Braga is slaughtering other clans so the bards can sing her accolades.

Rat Queens is a book that plans to be around for a long time and I couldn’t be happier. And it looks like the Queens are headed to Mage University soon. I can’t wait!

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It’s about time the most badass group of lady adventurers returned to grace us with their foul mouths and sweet fighting skills. When last we left the Rat Queens, Palisade was under attack from reality-warping tentacle creatures, RatQueens_09the Abyssals, sent by Gerrig Lake as vengeance against Sawyer Silver. In the wake of their first unsuccessful charge, the Rat Queens and the remaining warriors of Palisade rally together to storm Gerrig’s stronghold, stop the attack, and save Sawyer. Unfortunately, their presence, especially Hannah’s, may have been part of his plan all along.

The influence of the past on the present appears to be the broader theme of Rat Queens‘ current arc. Gerrig is avenging the death of his wife, who he blames Sawyer for by using dimensional beings from Dee’s former religion – the community she left in order to find herself. Under the spell of the Abyssals, Violet’s break with her dwarven clan and the seeds for the group’s name were planted. We were even been treated to a look at Braga’s past and the dangers of a culture unwilling to change. Now, it’s Hannah’s turn and like Dee and Violet her mother is at the center of it all. If there’s a second recurring theme to Rat Queens, then it’s the power of a mother’s love. And not in that sappy “saved by the power of love” deus ex machina kind of way that’s been overused, but a deep understanding and empathy that many mothers have that gives them greater insight into the needs and wants of their children. On a personal level, I can attest to this. Sometimes it feels like my mom knows what my decision or actions will be even before I do and she trusts that I’ll find my way despite times when I couldn’t feel more lost. Granted, one could make a case for both parents having a positive influence, but so far in Rat Queens the only two fathers featured have been bullies or ignorant jerks. They mean well in their own way, but the mothers of our Queens gave their girls the most important tools to becoming the women they are – acceptance and compassion. As far as Hannah’s hallucination goes, there’s clearly some untruth DumbBradgoing on where her mother is concerned. No spoilers, but you loyal readers may recall Hannah taking a “rune call” from her mother in the first issue of Rat Queens, so either the Abyssals are just messing with Hannah’s head or the scene in question actually happened and Mama Vizari recovered. If it’s the latter, then that’s one hell of a recovery.

This issue also marks the introduction of Stjepan Šejić (Sunstone) as the book’s new artist and by N’Rygoth is he fantastic! Already known for being a speed demon of an artist, Šejić maintains the full-figure look of the Rat Queens but gives them an extra bit of muscle and umph that aesthetically puts them on par with his DC Comics doodles of Wonder Woman or Big Barda. These are strong women and Šejić puts as much of that mentality into how the Rat Queens come across visually. There’s also a wide range of expressions that Šejić captures perfectly, from Mama Vizari’s annoyance to the condescending grimace of a castle guard. And as detailed as the faces look, there’s a gorgeous quasi-defined painted quality to his backgrounds and colors. I admit I do miss Roc Upchurch’s illustrations, but Šejić has definitely found a new way of looking at the world of the Rat Queens.

Pick up Rat Queens #9 on March 4th and remember how fucking dumb Brad is!

If I was the meteorologist of Palisade, I’d definitely start rethinking my career options. A rainstorm is one thing, but giant tentacled elder gods? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that isn’t in the job description. Or maybe it is; this is Palisade after all. More importantly, this is Rat Queens.RatQueens_07-1

After finding the missing Bernadette wandering the streets with her still scary as all hell eyes, Hannah takes her back to the Rat Queens’ home to figure out what happened to her despite the fact that she’s still a complete bitch and tried to have the Queens killed. At Casa de Rat Queens, Dee and her husband, Mezikiah, awkwardly catchup. Though he’s glad to see that she’s thriving in Palisade with her friends, there’s a measure of expectation from Kiah that Dee will figure things out and return to their religious community. Because it definitely isn’t a cult. It’s totally a cult. However, Kiah’s visit is two-fold. It seems as though their people were visited by Gerrig Lake who stole an important artifact, the Haruspex Requiem – a death mask containing all the knowledge of every high priest of Dee and Kiah’s people. His reasons for taking the mask? Revenge, of course. Revenge on Palisade and on Sawyer in particular.

The past, it seems, is creeping up on everyone in Rat Queens. Prior to reaching out a helping hand to Bernadette, Hannah and Tizzie get into a fairly heated argument that speaks to a darker past for the rockabilly mage; she’s the only one in Palisade capable of using darker magic, her parents are necromancers, and she’s still using Necrius as part of her spell-casting. We’ve already seen Hannah tap into her darker side during the battle with the trolls and Betty’s concern for how scary it was to see her so full of rage, so it’s very possible we could be seeing a heel-turn from Hannah if she goes completely to the Dark Side. Sawyer and Dee’s pasts tangentially cross paths through the involvement of Gerrig Lake, but only because Sawyer’s past as an assassin caused the death of Gerrig’s wife, the only bright spot in his life in Palisade.

Dee’s religious background, however, has become integral to the plot as all hell breaks loose. Kurtis J. Wiebe has repeatedly stated that Dee’s backstory reflects his own upbringing in a small, religious town and through Dee he explores the complicated relationship people have with religion. Dee left her home and family to find herself separate from the religious community. Kiah, in his own way, tempts her with letters from her mother, but he also points out that Dee wears the markings of their religion, which she didn’t have when she left. If Dee is so skeptical of the tenets of her people and the purpose of their religious practices, then why did she willingly take on the markings of N’Rygoth?

As a lapsed Catholic, I can say that I understand the contradictions inherent in separating yourself from religion yet still finding pieces of it to latch on to. When our lives, our families, are tied up in a specific belief system, and we break away, there’s still a part of us that remains attached. I may not go to church anymore, and I question A LOT of things about religion in general, but I still have my rosary, I remember the prayers, I have tattoos featuring crosses, and sometimes I even try to stick to things like Lent. Like it or not, my religious background isn’t something I can entirely separate myself from. Dee, as far as I know, is in a similar position, and she’s also quick to point out tumblr_n7qv3hNd381rz6qqno5_1280to Kiah that their religion is now being used to torture and maim. But Kiah counters with the fact that their gods are neutral and it’s the actions of mortals that manifests evil. In this case, evil literally manifests in the form of a tentacled creature from the abyss. We have our gods, they have theirs, but it’s nice to know that Wiebe doesn’t blame religion so much as he blames the people who corrupt and abuse it for their own purposes.

On the lighter side of things, Betty is high as fuck and it is glorious! Just that look in her eyes as she hallucinates her candy dream date is hilarious and it provides a welcome interlude in a pretty dark portion of the story, though I expect it to get darker. It’s one of the aspects of Rat Queens that I truly love. The characters and the story aren’t fighting each other. There’s equally as much time devoted to progressing the plot as there is making sure the characters react in their own way. Cracking jokes, eating candy people, it all fits regardless of the looming danger.

And because there’s no way to fit this into the flow of the review organically, just know that Lola’s fight scene is all kinds of awesome. Girl has some skills, I tell ya. Very nice, Roc Upchurch. Very nice!

Rating – 10/10

Final Thoughts: The forecast for Palisade is rain, wind, and a tentacled elder god bent on destruction. Remember to bring an umbrella.