Links to Megan Hutchison:
If you happened to have your finger on the pulse of the comic book community, then you might be aware that Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction found some time between writing some of the best comics of the last five years (seriously: Pretty Deadly, Bitch Planet, Sex Criminals, ODY-C, and Satellite Sam to name a few) to create their own production company, Milkfed Criminal Masterminds (MCM). With comic book adaptations on the rise and showing no signs of stopping where Hollywood is concerned, DeConnick and Fraction first made headlines last year when it was reported that their newly conceived of company would be used to adapt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals for television after signing a deal with Universal Studios. Going forward, MCM would serve as a platform for adapting other comic book properties, specifically creator-owned books.
A year later and Milkfed Criminals has moved on from a tumblr page to a full blown website with the recent official launch at HeroesCon in Charlotte, North Carolina. Complete with a Milkfed panel, signings, fun and games, the team of DeConnick, Fraction, and the many collaborators and staff of Milkfed Criminal Masterminds began what looks to be like an exciting development in the world of comic book adaptations.
When I reached out to Kelly Sue DeConnick to gauge her level of excitement moving forward, she could only articulate it thusly:
Crazy excited. And scared. That’s a kind of excited, yeah?
And though Sex Criminals was the big property she and Matt Fraction signed on for last year, it seems that, though it’s still in the works, other properties might take precedence. Kelly didn’t offer up any other names but I’ve got my fingers crossed for Bitch Planet or Pretty Deadly finding their ways to television or a digital platform. I’m biased, so sue me.
I also asked if she and Matt would gift me a country of my choice when they took over the world, but Kelly is nothing if not an honest woman about her management style:
Oh, I’m not built for world domination. I’ve got my hands full running our household, shit.
If you’re a loyal reader of Maniacal Geek or a frequent listener of That Girl with the Curls podcast, you’re probably aware of my love for the DeConnick/Fraction household and burgeoning comic book empire. So, yes, I’m excited about the possibilities going forward for some of my favorite books being handled by some of my favorite people. Congrats to Kelly Sue and Matt and all those involved with Milkfed Criminal Masterminds for not throwing away their shot! Long may they reign!
And you should all go pick up the latest issues of Pretty Deadly and Bitch Planet that came out last week! Also, you can listen to Kelly Sue’s episode of the podcast here!
My Dearest, Rat Queens,
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.
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.
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,
P.S. I’m still pretty sure Gary had something to do with this. Seriously, Gary. Fuck you.
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 righteous 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 so 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 accomplish. 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.
As 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!
I’m gonna keep this one relatively short and sweet (not unlike myself…ha!) because once Rat Queens: Braga #1 is released on January 14th there’s going to be a much bigger conversation about visibility and representation in the transgender community and how comic books and genre fiction factor into it. At least I hope there will be because Braga’s one-shot, written by Kurtis Wiebe, drawn by guest artist Tess Fowler, colored by Kelly Fitzpatrick, and lettered by Ed Brisson is an exemplary piece that highlights the struggle for acceptance and the need for change that occurs even in the world of Rat Queens.
If you’re unfamiliar with Rat Queens, you’ll – seriously? How do you not know about Rat Queens? Never mind – Braga is a secondary character introduced in the first volume, Sass and Sorcery, as the lady orc muscle of the Peaches, a questing group led by Hannah’s rival Tizzie. By the first arc’s end, a few tidbits of information are laid out about Braga that Wiebe elaborates on as Braga tells her story, post-the night of regrets, to Human Dave of the Four Daves. At least she tells most of it. The clever turn from Wiebe and Fowler is the transition from Broog to Braga is never brought up in the narrative proper. Instead, Broog, next in line to lead his clan of bloodthirsty orcs, struggles to combat the culture of his people. While still aroused by battle and blood, Broog sees the orc culture as stagnant, uninterested in evolving past insular communities where reading and writing are practically novel concepts. This isn’t the creators sidestepping the issue of gender, it’s them focusing on the environment and the culture that suppresses individuality and free-thinking, the kind of culture where alienation is palpable. In Broog’s case, he’s not like other orcs because he wants more than just the frenzy of war that has no end. He wants peace and the opportunity for his people to advance. But orcs like his father and brother are less interested in advancement. They prefer their lies and accolades of immortality. They want a less complex world. But like the real world, it’s only going to get more complex as more marginalized groups understand they don’t have to take this kind of suppression and oppression any longer.
What’s become apparent in Rat Queens is the underlying theme of families formed from misfits. As we’ve seen so far in the current arc, at least with Violet and Dee, the Queens have left their blood relations and communities to explore a much bigger world. They don’t quite fit in anywhere but Palisade and with each other. Braga’s story is no different in this regard. That she’s no longer a man is indicative of finding her true self after leaving and seeing the rest of the world. The circumstances that led to her severing ties (and limbs) with her clan are best experienced by the reader. And yet there’s still a bittersweet tone to Braga’s story. She’s not bitter about her people, telling Dave she’s more disappointed than angry. The toxicity of an environment like her home could never change through force of will alone and, while it saddens her, she knows leaving them was for the best. Someday she may go back, but for the moment she’s happy to keep her life of questing and fighting in Palisade.
The end of the story, however, raises a thought or two. Even though we’re seeing Braga’s origin as Broog, Dave indicates that he wouldn’t have taken her for a chieftain’s daughter. This could actually be interpreted two ways. One, Dave was told the entire story, knows Braga used to be male, but still refers to her with feminine pronouns because that’s who she is, or two, Braga told her story as if she, as Braga, was fighting her father and clan culture, not as Broog. If it’s the former, then Human Dave is awesome! If it’s the latter, then it serves as a reminder that people like Braga still feel the need to hide and keep secrets. She’s all woman, but even in the fairly open and accepting city of Palisade, she still maintains her distance.
And before I wrap this up I just wanted to say that Tess Fowler’s art is fantastic! Even in the midst of blood and gore, she makes Broog and Braga endearing characters. There’s just the right amount of sweetness to counter the melancholy. Braga’s smile is just adorable for someone more than happy to cleave a person in two. Of course, Kelly Fitzpatrick brings it with the colors as well. Orcs aren’t the fanciest of dressers, but Fitzpatrick still finds a way to make the background colors pop despite the muted palette of browns, greys, and drab greens associated with the species.
So, yeah, this didn’t turn out to be as short as I thought it would be but, whatever, it’s a great one-shot and here’s hoping more characters from Rat Queens get their own individual story. Except Gary. Fuck that guy.
Rat Queens: Braga #1 will be released on January 14th, so until then you’d better catch up on the previous issues!
Another week and another batch of comics to recommend for your reading pleasure. Let’s not waste any time and get to the list!
Peter Panzerfaust #21 – Image Comics
Written by Kurtis Wiebe with Art by Tyler Jenkins and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick, this is the beginning of the final arc of Peter Panzerfaust and the team behind the book aren’t pulling any punches, figuratively and literally as the issue features two intense fist fights between the twins, Maurice and Claude, and the remaining Lost Boys when Tootles essentially decides that they need to hold a memorial for Peter, Lily, and Julien after which the rest of the group can get right the fuck out. Framed within the elderly Maurice’s recollection, the group, back in Paris, has tried to stay together in the wake of their flight from the Sticks and Peter’s capture, but their own personal vendettas and underlying feelings of guilt, responsibility, and bitterness seem to be driving them farther and farther apart. Tootles tries to keep Wendy, Michael, and John safe, with Wendy still taking on the motherly role. Felix has taken to executing Nazis as he sees fit. And the twins…they’re both dealing with things in their own way. It’s part and parcel of what older Maurice tells John Parsons, their story is no different from the stories of hundreds of other people during the war. Survival was the least difficult part, the hard part was figuring out what to do in the aftermath. The crumbling of the Lost Boys, however, gets a bit of a reprieve with a last minute reveal that still manages to get upstaged by an even bigger reveal.
Rat Queens #8 – Image Comics
Also written by Kurtis Wiebe with Art by Roc Upchurch, we get a lot more background on Violet as we get to see almost exactly what led Violet to make the decision to leave her dwarven home, shave her beard, and join the Rat Queens. In the first volume, Sass and Sorcery, we were introduced to Violet’s brother, Barry Blackforge, who, like many of the familial relations to the first ladies of kickassery, didn’t approve of Violet’s decision to go off and become part of a quest-group-for-hire. Now we get to see that, like Dee, Violet’s home was built on the foundations of tradition, ones that still pigeonhole Violet into a model for her father’s new brand of armor instead of a competitor representing her family among the other noble dwarf clans during an annual tournament. It isn’t until she sees the shaven face of Morgan Meldhammer, an older woman fighting in place of another who chooses to buck the system and forge her own path by wearing the symbol she finds empowering, a rat, instead of the symbols of her clan. It’s her example and the supportive and steady hands of her mother with a straight razor that give us the Violet we know and love. And the way this issue ties into the overall narrative is not to be missed at the end.
Nailbiter #6 – Image Comics
Dear God can the town of Buckaroo, Oregon get any creepier? According to writer Joshua Williamson and artist Mike Henderson, yes, yes it can. Case in point, Alice, one of the town locals, waxes poetic about her home town from an insider’s perspective. The ongoing mystery is whether the myriad serial killers originating from the town, the Buckaroo Butchers, are some fluke of nature or if there’s something about the town itself that turns its citizens into killers. Determined to find her own answers, and by sheer happenstance, Alice becomes entangled in a woman named Mallory’s desire to have her baby born in Buckaroo so he’ll grow up to be a serial killer and she’ll become famous as the mother of said serial killer; doing the talk show circuit and eventually starting a foundation to help others. Basically a form of Münchausen syndrome where fame is the ultimate goal through the attention of the media. It’s a strong issue to start the next arc despite the exclusion of one of the book’s main characters. Finch sits this one out, presumably because he’s arguing with the FBI over his pending murder trial, while Alice and Sheriff Shannon Crane take the center stage for good reason. Both of these women were born in Buckaroo and both have had to grow up with the stigma of living in the town and the possibility that anyone they know is a potential serial killer. In Shannon’s case, the guy she went to prom with ended up becoming the Nailbiter. Alice, however, is still struggling with how to deal with growing up in Buckaroo, thoughts made far more relevant by the issue’s end.
Grayson #3 – DC Comics
Written by Tom King and Tim Seeley with Art by Mikel Janin. Coming off of the phenomenal Future’s End tie-in that could have easily derailed the momentum of the new book, Grayson wastes no time getting us back into the story proper as Dick and Helena are tasked with taking down The Old Gun, a man who literally sees through the barrels of his guns, after he kills a man and steals his enhanced eyes in a desperate attempt to return his vision to normal. Dick and Helena are backed up by Agents 1 and 8 and it’s through Agent 8 that we get the inevitable conflict between the world of espionage and the world of superheroes. Dick was raised by a man who fell victim to the power of a gun, a man who spent his life attempting to bring an end to crime in Gotham without resorting to the easy route of using the very weapon that ruined his life. Dick isn’t unfamiliar with guns, but as he says to Agent 8, it’s not how he fights. For all of Agent 8’s proselytizing about how quick and easy relying on a gun can be as opposed to the credo of most superheroes and their “no kill” philosophy, Dick sees it as too simplistic of an answer when the missions they’re involved with are much more complicated. The objective may be to get the eyes, but the Old Gun brings a greater emotional weight to the situation once Dick learns the truth. It’s also an intriguing issue that delves into Dick’s own form of identity crisis. For all intents and purposes, Dick Grayson/Nightwing is dead in the eyes of the world, but within the confines of Spyral, the former superhero is now a spy, Agent 37, which comes with its own set of rules and regulations. Agent 8’s repeated botching of the Nightwing moniker as a means of getting under Dick’s skin, and reinforcing the fact that he’s a spy, not a hero, serve only to push Dick’s resolve in holding true to the teachings of his mentor and staying true to himself.
Spotlight On: Gotham Academy #1 – DC Comics
Yes, I know everyone’s been hyping this book as the greatest thing to come out of DC in a long time, but it’s for good reason. Writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher and Artist Karl Kerschl bring about a new side of Gotham City through the students and faculty of one of its most prestigious schools. There’s definitely a DC Comics meets Harry Potter vibe, in a good way, as we’re introduced to second-year student Olive Silverlock and first-year student Maps Mizoguchi. Told from Olive’s point-of-view, we know that she’s technically in a relationship with Maps’ older brother Kyle, but there may already be drama involving another student. Olive has become distant and moody as a result of some unknown event that took place during the summer; something so significant that even a visiting Bruce Wayne is aware of her even if she’s not aware of him. But really what the book boils down to is an intriguing, engaging, colorful, and, most importantly, fun, start to the next wave of Bat-books. Olive and Maps, both women of color, are delightful characters to watch. For all her moping, Olive’s problems are that of the typical teenager. She doesn’t quite fit in with her classmates, but much of that is largely tied to her attitude as evidenced through her interactions with her roommate Lucy and Maps. Of course, there’s always a bully and Olive’s Draco Malfoy equivalent is Pomeline Fritch. Seriously, the names alone are a mashup between comic books and Harry Potter naming conventions. But when push comes to shove, Olive is there for the people who need her and that says more about her character than the majority of her teen angst. Maps, however, is joy on legs, which makes her the most entertaining character of the bunch. I was definitely on board when she had the one-sided conversation with Olive about the school’s Headmaster, but later when the girls are climbing the bell tower to see the supposed ghost haunting the North Hall and Maps rambles on and on about her Dungeons and Dragons/LARPing escapades as if they parallel the situation, that’s when I think I fully fell in love with the book. I’m definitely looking forward to solving the mysteries of Gotham Academy and attending classes with such new and fantastically realized characters.
So those are my picks for the week. What about you? What did you read this week and what would you recommend?