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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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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?!
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 that 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 “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 Bonvillain 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 but 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 with 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…
How does a team of misfit lady-warriors regroup after saving the world from mind-altering tentacled demons? They go back to school.
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.
As 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 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!
Why eight questions? Because I had more than five and less than ten! Actually, there are more than eight because of grouping the questions by subject but – and you probably don’t care about any explanation I provide.
Previously I did a review of the Rat Queens One-Shot that focused on Braga’s life before Palisade, the Peaches, and the Rat Queens when she was still the Orc chieftain’s son, Broog. Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe with guest artist Tess Fowler, Braga’s story is one of exploring the stagnant culture that breeds intolerance as Broog tries to pull his clan out of the rut of war and brutality, but meets resistance at every turn. Tired of fighting against his own people, Broog leaves his clan disappointed but hopeful that his clan will eventually come around. The issue is significant not just for addressing transgender characters in comics, but also for how the subject is broached. At no point does the transition from Broog to Braga occur within the story. Instead, Wiebe and Fowler make it about the environment surrounding Broog and the factors that push him to leave. It’s a brilliant story, so I reached out to Kurtis Wiebe with my eight questions and he was kind enough to answer them through email.
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!