Posts Tagged ‘high fantasy’

My Dearest, Rat Queens,

rat_queens_by_johnnyrocwell-d76vd7g

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.

rq131

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.

rat_queens_concept_art_by_tessfowler-d92u1pp

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.

Advertisements

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.

 

RatQueens_14-1

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 way I figure it, Kurtis J. Wiebe could write a whole issue of Rat Queens where the eponymous team reads from the phone book and it’d hilarious and heart-breaking. Tess Fowler, in turn, would find a way to make those actions dynamic and entertaining while Tamra Bonvillain would make it a colorful treat for the eyes. That’s my way of saying hannahthat even the most seemingly boring tasks become poignant and epic when performed by these fantastically foul-mouthed women.

With Rat Queens #13, the slow march towards some kind of confrontation becomes clear. Picking up where we left off: the Queens appeared to be done for in the snowy mountains outside Hannah’s old stomping grounds of Mage University, but it turns out they’re alive and well. Saved by the University, the Queens are given permission to explore the grounds and facilities while Hannah meets with one of her old professors to talk magic and academic upheaval. I’m an especially big fan of this aspect of Mage U because it continues to show just how versatile and inclusive the world of Rat Queens can be when its creative team seamlessly incorporates sci-fi elements like inter-dimensional travel into a mostly high fantasy setting. Plus the professor reminds me of Dr. Manhattan only with more snark. Anyway, Dee spends her time in the massive library looking for a way to bring down N’Rygoth while Violet looks after Betty. Of course, any time with Betty ultimately results in questionable decision-making, but one can’t deny the buddy comedy stylings that emerge when the free-spirited Smidgen goes up against any other personality.

The bulk of the issue, however, is devoted to the building tension surrounding Hannah’s father, Gerard’s, revolt against the University’s Council of Nine and his imprisonment in an unreachable dimension. Once again, the foundations for familial tension in the Vizari household were laid down from the beginning of Rat Queens but now it seems that Hannah, her parents, and the University may be part of something far more nefarious. The demon-baby chide takes on a very different meaning when Mage U’s faculty repeatedly refer to Hannah as Gerard’s Mage U“stepdaughter”, though the two are quick to correct them that he is her father and nothing else. Hannah’s mother, Mina, reaffirms this as well during a tearful reunion with her daughter.

Like Dee, Violet, and Braga, Kurtis Wiebe is taking us on another journey with Hannah to explore how her home life and background led her to the Rat Queens. Her questionable parentage and subsequent ostracization from other magic users is very much inline with the misfits and misunderstood finding their place, their community, outside of the traditional model. Hannah, it seems, left either to escape the stigma of her birth or because of some as-of-yet unknown actions that left an unforgettable impression. Either way, she left because the culture of Mage U has little sympathy or empathy for someone they deem an abomination. Given Hannah’s vision under the influence of N’Rygoth it’s safe to assume she’s been experiencing this her entire life. It’s why she hides her horns beneath a mountain of hair and keeps her feelings heavily fortified behind a prickly personality. Her ability to trust is about nil so, aside from her parents and Sawyer, the Rat Queens may be the only people she’s felt remotely comfortable around, but even then she still keeps her guard up.

I’d also like to give some massive kudos to Tess Fowler and Tamra Bonvillain for bringing it hardcore on the art and colors. The entire Betty and Violet sledding sequence alone had me out of breath from laughter, but this issue featured a lot of wide shots and crowd scenes, which means details are key. And my God do Fowler and Bonvillainbettyvioletsled infuse these panels with personality. The library and Artisan Quarter are definitely worth looking over a few times just to hunt for easter eggs and cameos – my favorite little piece of nonsense being the students riding in a walking, or flying, bathtub. And I honestly can’t stress enough how much I want Violet and Betty to have a sitcom of their own. They are comedy gold! I’m pretty sure (but don’t quote me) that Bonvillain has used just about every color in the visible spectrum. I wonder when she can start using super-colors?

Oh, you don’t know what super-colors are?

Huh – awkward…

Anyway, Rat Queens #13 is amazing and you should all go read it because something’s about to happen. Something huge. I just know it.

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

How does a team of misfit lady-warriors regroup after saving the world from mind-altering tentacled demons? They go back to school.

Duh.RatQueens_11_cvr

Rat Queens is back and writer Kurtis J. Wiebe is joined by Tess Fowler, artist for the Braga solo issue, and colorist Tamra Bonvillain (Wayward, Pisces) as the new permanent team after Stjepan Šejić had to step down due to health issues (feel better Stjepan!) Anyway, with the new team in place, it’s time for these warrior women to start a new chapter of their own as they venture to Hannah’s old stomping grounds at Mage University to find out what happened to Hannah’s father after his row with the university’s Council of Nine. And by row I mean huge freaking battle of epically magical proportions!

Seriously, the first five pages show exactly what Fowler and Bonvillain bring to the table. They come out of the gate with a battle among the student mages that would put Hogwarts to shame. I want to meet all of the students and see all of the magic because some of these people had to survive, right? Right? It’s also a pretty diverse student body, Fowler’s designed, and Bonvillain’s colors always pop, her use of lighting is top notch as well.

The meat of the story, however, concerns Hannah and her relationship with her father and her alma matter. At the conclusion of the second arc we learned that Hannah’s rockabilly hairdo was more utilitarian than stylistic, hiding a pair of horns that have something to do with her necromancer parents. It seems the “demon baby” label may be further connected to her time as a student, which I can’t wait to discover. Wiebe continues to thematically tie his leading ladies with similar stories of absent or failing fathers. From the first arc we’ve known Hannah has a stronger relationship with her mother, not unlike Violet or Dee (Betty’s background…still a mystery), but unlike the traditional rigidity of Daddy Dwarf, Papa Vizari comes across as a man who knows he failed his child and could possibly have a relationship with her if they talked things out. Or magiked them. I don’t know how it works in the Vizari family. At least that’d be my guess as to where the proceedings go. Keep in mind, it’s only based on a few lines of dialogue, but what impresses me most about Wiebe’s writing is his ability to pepper just enough background in his exposition to justify future plot points. Case in point: only a few lines of dialogue spoken by or about Braga made her one-shot feel genuine instead of forced.

RatQueens11_1As always, the humor is a delight from Hannah’s crude yet nonchalant announcements to Betty’s bag of special candy (just don’t eat the green ones). Comic timing is an art I greatly admire in comic books, but Wiebe and Fowler are pros so the girls come off as natural in dialogue and movement. One of the little details I love is Betty’s hair going from braided while she’s “at work” to loose during her down time. It’s small, I know, but it adds to the character. And it’s really in the downtime where Wiebe shines in his writing. Rat Queens, if you’ll recall in a previous interview, is about a family of misfits. Emphasis on the family. When they’re not fighting orc hordes or having wild post-battle parties, the Queens are a rambunctious and raunchy group of friends who would go to hell and back for each other. Their concern and love for one another isn’t just because of their prowess as fighters, mages, or clerics, but from a place of real friendship and love.

Oh and Violet grew her beard again. Yes, she looks hot.

Rat Queens #11 will be out August 19th at your Local Comic Shop and Comixology. Buy it!

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!

ratqueens

Part two of Dark Horse’s Conan/Red Sonja talk at Emerald City Comicon concludes with co-writer Gail Simone! If you haven’t read part one with Jim Zub, I strongly encourage you to do so on pain of death! That I will somehow accomplish through the internet…once I’ve mastered magic? Okay, just know that the interview with Jim Zub is fantastic as well. Gail was lovely to talk to and it’s always great getting her insights on the comic book world and how much we’ve grown as a community.

Fun fact: The Dark Horse booth was across from the ECCC equivalent of San Diego Comic-Con’s Hall H, so there were times during the interview where, after I asked a question, there would be a swell of cheers coming from the room as if the audience was showing their approval. So know that my confidence was running high from all that.

Also, look out for the special guest appearance by Dark Horse’s Publicity Coordinator, Steve Sunu. Hi, Steve!

Author’s Note: All italics and parentheses have been added for emphasis and clarification.

 

Maniacal Geek: I talked to Jim yesterday about Conan/Red Sonja.Gail-Simone-Red-Sonja1

Gail Simone: Okay, great.

MG: He had a lot of glowing things to say about you. So, you wanna give us the real story about working with Jim Zub?

GS: Yeah, the real story is quite amazing. I haven’t done work with co-writers too often but when I have they’ve been really great ones and Jim has been really great. It was so fun when we first started talking about, “Well what do we want to do?” We’ve got four issues and this type of a team-up hasn’t happened in forever. It’s very exciting, we’re both very excited about it. So it has to be epic!

MG: Yeah!

GS: And so then we started thinking about what would be epic and we decided to tell a story that spans a lot of time. And so, ya know, we write our separate pages and then we both go over each others pages. And I think it worked very well, I think it’s very seamless and makes a really exciting, fun story. I’ve known him for years, he’s a great person, he’s a great writer, he’s a great collaborator. So it was great. And then when the art started coming in and it’s so fantastic, it’s so gorgeous and people have been coming up to my table all convention and telling me how gorgeous and how much they love the art and how excited they are about the story so I think we hopefully hit our goal with it.

MG: I read the third issue right before the con so I’m all caught up with the bloodroot and everything. I was asking Jim about the idea of legacy and storytelling because each issue is narrated by a…is it a vizier? A teacher and the young prince?

GS: Yeah.conanrs3p3

MG: What does legacy mean to you in terms of these stories?

GS: Well, this is a character that’s been around a long time and people, some people, are familiar with her stories, some people aren’t but they still know who Red Sonja is for one reason or another; whether it’s a movie or an old comic or just seeing art and material out there they seem to know who she is. And that’s kind of a really cool thing. And then when you can take modern themes and use them with legacy characters and set them in a totally different and unfamiliar time period – I love that mixture of being able to be kind of current with the themes and the thought processes and the actions of the characters but the setting’s a completely different time.

MG: What do you feel is Red Sonja’s arc? In the Dynamite series but also in this one?

GS: She has a couple different things going on. The first arc was kind of more about how she became who she is and what formed her into the great warrior that she is and the second arc was more about “Do you still have friends and friendships and contacts and things when you become this person?” And then the third story arc that takes us through issue 18 is more about…emotion. It’s a lot more deeply emotional story than the other two arcs so she has a really strong emotional arc that she takes.

MG: And when you say that, talking about Sonja’s arc with “can you keep friends and be this person still?” It reminds me of how we are in general; we grow, we become a different person. Especially women in these [nerd culture] industries.conanrs3p4

GS: Well I think, too, there’s something to be said about when you become the best at what you do, then when you take a look around – who’s left? Who’s still standing with you or beside you? And sometimes that can be lonely and sometimes you can fall into really good friendships that are equal.

Steve Sunu: Sorry, Sam, just about two more questions.

MG: Okay, yeah. [to Gail] Next question: What was your favorite metaphor that you used as a descriptor for Red Sonja or for Conan?

GS: [laughs] Oh my gosh! Favorite metaphor? I don’t know. The thing – there is some metaphors but the thing that I like most about writing the Red Sonja character is that it’s pretty straight forward. It’s pretty grounded, it’s pretty filthy and bloody and sexy and all those things. I think that – in the second arc where she’s having trouble getting with somebody, nobody wants to be with her and she can’t quite figure out why or what to do about it. I think that – I wouldn’t say that’s a metaphor but I do think it’s something a lot of people do go through and could relate to. At least they’re telling me that online that they could really relate to her current problem. So I enjoyed telling that story. It was humorous but also it was still a little painful.

MG: And last question: Who’s the best Monkee?

GS: [laughs] Who’s the best monkey? Hmmm, the best monkey…? I don’t know. Gorilla Grodd, right?

MG: [laughs] Well I mean Monkees like the band.

GS: Oh the band? The Monkees?! Oh no!

MG: Since you’re such a Monkees fan.Michael-Nesmith-the-monkees-19107360-1217-790

GS: I am. Michael Nesmith. [laughs]

MG: [laughs] Yeah, no, I agree! I’m all there with you.

GS: I hate to say it –

MG: No, don’t hate!

GS: If I was going to have to pick one it would be him.

MG: All those Davy [Jones] fans, “NO, Gail! Curse you!”

GS: Gotta go with the lyrics.

MG: That’s right. The guy with the hat. Thank you so much, Gail. I appreciate the time you’ve given me. It’s all great. I love reading your work. I read [Now Leaving] Megalopolis as well. So fantastic.

GS: Thank you so much.nightwing butt

MG: I’m looking forward to all your new stuff that’s coming out.

GS: Me too. I can’t wait until it starts coming out.

MG: And is there going to be Nightwing butt in Convergence? You gonna have just like one shot – “NIGHTWING BUTT!”

GS: [sing-song] There’s some cute Nightwing stuff!

MG: [sing-song] Okay! Thank you so much!

GS: Thank you.

In the midst of the three-day walkabout that is Emerald City Comicon, I had the opportunity, thanks to the lovely team at Dark Horse Comics, to interview the writers of the Conan/Red Sonja crossover comic, Jim Zub and Gail Simone. First up was Jim Zub who was kind enough to set some time aside at his booth. The interview has been transcribed due to heavy background noise during recording. Jim Zub

 

Author’s note: All italics and parentheses have been added for emphasis and clarification.

 

Maniacal Geek: So, Conan/Red Sonja!

Jim Zub: Conan/Red Sonja.

MG: I read the issue the other night.

JZ: Issue three?

MG: Yep, issue three.

JZ: Awesome.

MG: So, if you can describe the process of working with Gail Simone first.

JZ: Sure. So, Gail was on the project first and she was the one that brought me on board. So even when I came into it she already had a couple ideas about how things could work. And I think the one thing that I’m really the most proud of that we worked out was – ya know this kind of a project, especially with characters who haven’t been teamed up in over fifteen years…

MG: Yeah, not since the movie, right?conanrs3p1

JZ: Right? You have them when they’re young and they’re vibrant and then you have them when they’re older. And both eras of the characters are really amazing. And it’s like, man, if this is the only time I ever get to write Conan, I wanna do it all and Gail had this great idea that we would show a story that evolves as they get older. So the first chapter is, ya know, when they’re young and impetuous and then as the things that they do in that first chapter come to roost in the later chapters.

MG: The bloodroot and everything?

JZ: Exactly. And so we wanted to create this – it enlarges the scope of the story and it makes it that much more epic, but it also allows us to show how the characters have evolved and how their attitudes have changed. So Conan has become much more serious. Ya know, in the early one Sonja is very harsh, she’s very prickly, and then as she gets a little bit older she’s a bit freer and Conan has sort of shut down after Bêlit’s death. He’s just, ya know, much more morose and kinda grim about the whole thing. And that – being able to show the contrast between them and the shift in time I feel like is one of the most – it’s something I’m really proud of in the series. And then, ya know, just being able to have this big sweeping adventure. You get to have that pirate, swashbuckling era. You get to have the ragtag thieves.

MG: Gladiatorial…

JZ: Exactly! We get to – literally it’s like a – the best of collection for me, it’s like the greatest hits of Conan and we just get to hit all these high notes all the way through. And that was just the best feeling. Ya know I can’t adequately describe…my name on a Conan book feels absolutely surreal.

MG: Is it one of those things that you kind of always dreamed of but never –conanrs3p2

JZ: Yeah, I grew up on it. I just never thought it would even be possible. Ya know I read the Conan comics growing up and I read the novels and that just felt like, well that’s what those people do. Not that I would ever be able to do that. So having my small little piece of the pie that’s pretty amazing.

MG: One of things that struck me with the third issue is that you’re really laying down this foundation of legacy. The storytelling to the prince. Is there something about that that just goes into the old novels or are you trying to play up the sweeping epic?

JZ: I think it’s a bit of both. I mean you wanna give a sense of…that this is not just an adventure that takes place in the moment but that it changes and it is recorded and it will be spoken of for a long time. I mean, that’s the nature of a legend, right? And we’re talking about two characters that are legendary and so being able to give it that – without trying to sound corny – that gravitas, like to say this is something that is – will be spoken of – this is not just these characters experiencing it but something that will echo outwards. And that’s, ya know, that great epic fantasy, that’s what they do and so that’s really very much the voice that was established even by Kurt Busiek when he was doing his run on the series and we looked to that and said, “Okay, we wanna run with it.” But Roy Thomas did that kinda stuff too. He would do this really poetic kind of prose and narration in his comics. It’s funny sometimes when you’re writing it you feel like, man, are we going over the top? But Conan feels like it can absorb it. It’s so big and he’s such a powerful character that even if it feels like you’re going too much you’re just right there. Like that’s where it should be.

MG: You feel like you’re going too far but, in fact, you’re not going far enough!

JZ: No, you’re right there. Right in the thick of it. You just wanna push it right to the edge in terms of the narrative quality or the intensity of those emotions and the poetic way you say it. And every so often I would find myself, I would write a sentence and I would go, “Am I nuts? Is this – did we – did we go tip it over the top?” And then we would, I would go back and I’d kinda read it out loud and my wife or other people would be like, “No, man, that’s totally Conan.” I’m like, “Wow! This is cool!” We get to really dig in on that kind of prose.

MG: Is there a particular metaphor that you’re proud of?

JZ: In the first issue we’ve got this – hold on, I – see I want to get the wording of it right and actually read it to you because I’m so proud of it.

MG: You have to do the voices too.conan-red-sonja-1-conan

JZ: Yeah, okay that’s a trick. Whenever I do a script and it’s got a – particularly licensed characters – I always read it back in the character’s voice so I feel like it has the right cadence. So, it’s corny but it’s totally useful.

MG: Lay on, Macduff.

JZ: Right here, right, so he [Conan] jumps over this gate and he smashes this guy in the face and as it’s happening the guard screams, “Gods above!” And he [Conan] goes, “Gods, you say? No, just a Cimmerian born with an appetite for things kept hidden behind steel and stone.” It’s just something, I don’t know, that’s like a badass way to introduce a character. He just comes out of nowhere and beats the hell out of people.

MG: Well why not?

JZ: It’s Conan, he can take that. So I’m proud of that one. I’m proud of the issue that hasn’t come out yet, issue four has got some – we go all epic. The original Howard stories – Robert E. Howard was actually – he was a pen pal with H.P. Lovecraft and you notice in a bunch of his stories he has a very almost Cthullian approach to the supernatural. Conan doesn’t just fight something, he fights something that could melt your mind or is beyond the universe’s ability to comprehend kind of stuff. And I always found that stuff very visceral and so I told Gail really early – we made a wishlist of all the cool things, ya know, we have a gladiatorial scene, and we have pirates, and we have this. And I said, one of my – on my wishlist was creature beyond the universe; creature of the unknown and she’s like, “Oh yeah, let’s do this!”

MG: I feel like Gail would be on board with anything.

JZ: I got to put one of those into issue four and all the prose around that makes me very happy.Wayward01A-teaser

MG: Especially with high fantasy because it’s like science fiction, it’s a sponge for everything. You can just – you’ve been doing that with, a little bit with Wayward and Skullkickers and then Samurai Jack. It’s all within kinda the same umbrella.

JZ: Yeah, totally, and I feel like…some people say to me, “Oh, you’re a sword and sorcery writer.” I’m like, “No, I wanna tell stories.” I like fantasy and I like magic but it’s broader than that. It’s about empowerment and it’s about excitement and I feel like these are great vehicles for excitement. In whatever I’m writing I want it to be action-packed and entertaining. Some of those are more comical and some of those are more serious but there’s an intensity to them.

MG: Definitely and I can’t think of a better way to end it.

JZ: Thank you so much.

MG: Thank you! I appreciate it and I loved having you on the podcast before.

JZ: It was a lot of fun, I really appreciate it.

MG: Yeah, no, you and Andy [Suriano] are like one of my favorites.

JZ: We’re having so much fun with [Samurai] Jack. The last issue, 20, comes out in, well it’s a little delayed now because of shipping, but it’s coming out in June and it is, like, it’s like our coda on the series. I tried to sum everything up and say, okay, if they never do an animated ending for Samurai Jack this is what I wanna say, drop the mic, and walk away.1 gOXhpN2a-nGNEnB24oR1sw

MG: Are they cutting you off?

JZ: Well yeah, but they gave us enough notice so we could go out the way we wanted.

MG: That’s good ’cause you don’t always get that.

JZ: Oh yeah, absolutely. The show didn’t get that! So, the last thing you wanna do is cut off the comic.

MG: Exactly. Thanks, Jim!

JZ: Thanks!

RatQueens_04-1This article was originally posted at Word of the Nerd on January 16th.

You know how in most books the plot starts some sort of mystery or a problem to solve that tends to become the ongoing, if not the overarching, narrative? Yeah, not so much with Rat Queens. Like most D&D campaigns, it’s about moving from mission to fight, mission to fight, fight to fight. Roll for initiative, you get the idea. So you know how the Queens, along with the other questing groups of Palisade, were attacked by an assassin while en route to weed out some cave trolls and barely escaped with their lives? Turns out it was Old Lady Bernadette the whole time. Go figure. Seems she didn’t take too kindly to the favorable treatment Sawyer was giving to the Queens, who were pretty much becoming a nuisance on a regular basis, so she hired some assassins to take care of the problem herself. While I applaud the initiative…man, Old Lady Bernadette is such a bitch! Guh!

It seems, though, that Bernadette’s plans to get rid of the questing groups have brought on a troll hoard set on wrecking up Palisade because the Rat Queens killed the leader’s boyfriend. Interestingly enough, the troll actually killed the assassin hired by Bernadette, but then the Queens had to kill him because, well he was a troll and he was attacking them and – ya know let’s just say the situation is complicated and move on. Oh, and the only reason the lead troll knew the Queens killed her boyfriend was because of Gary, a Palisade soldier, going on about how the Rat Queens totally killed her troll-man and were drinking in celebration of his death. Way to be, Gary. Way to be. Anyway, the Queens, at Violet’s insistence and with some help from Braga – formerly of the Peaches – decide to fight off the trolls since they’re kinda-sorta responsible for the attack in a very roundabout way.

StabbyAnd what a glorious battle it is! Not only does Kurtis J. Wiebe create some choice one-liners, but Roc Upchurch’s art brings the pain and the awesome! Once again, Violet and Betty shine, but Hannah and Dee hold their own as well. Violet is all about kicking ass as she puts her dwarven fighting skills to good use while Betty acts as Braga’s literal back-up, firing her arrows as Braga tears through the trolls. The energy of Upchurch’s art is phenomenal. Every page brings something new to the characters and Sawyer gets a fantastic fight sequence in the beginning of the issue. There’s a reason why he’s Captain of the Guard. In the midst of battle, he makes you feel like you’re in the middle of the fight with the Queens, keeping the blood flowing as the ladies defend Palisade.

I think what I love most about Rat Queens is the books unrelenting action as well as it’s sense of humor. I don’t often laugh out loud when I’m reading comics, but Wiebe always has at least one line that breaks my composure. Which is what a good comic book should do. Comics are entertainment, escapism, and Rat Queens is the embodiment of both aspects. This is a book that wants you to enjoy yourself and I enjoy it more and more with each issue.

Rating – 10/10

Final Thoughts: There’s a +5 on attack rolls against dudes named Gary…go find someone named Gary! He probably had it coming anyway.