by Kurtis J Wiebe (Writer), Roc Upchurch (Artist/Colorist)
The Story: The Rat Queens fight the giant, then learn that the other groups charged with small tasks have been targeted by assassins as well.
The Review: I have a certain fondness for fantasy. Having played many role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder through several years, I find myself liking the concept of a group of adventurers doing quests or mercenary work in a world filled with monsters and magic. The downside of such an affection for the genre is that I am very familiar with its many tropes and cliché, which means it takes a bit more effort from the creative team behind any book to actually satisfy my craving for swashbuckling adventures and orc-smashing quests. The regular ”saving a princess”, ”fight a dragon” or ”kill an evil god and destroy its evil artifact” might not exactly do the job.
Thankfully, it seems that Kurtis J. Wiebe understand this very well, as Rat Queens is anything but regular fantasy fare. Putting forward a group of female adventurers that are anything but perfect, the writer already try in his second issue to set up a mystery and to develop his setting and his characters a bit further in the process.
Wiebe immediately starts his story here as a direct continuation to the conclusion of the first one, with the group battling against a giant. It is an abrupt way to start an issue, especially without any recap page whatsoever, yet the way everything start make up for it as the action begins rather quickly. In the first scene against the giant, the group dynamic, at least in terms of capabilities, is firmly set as each of the characters participate in some way. Akin to a D&D game, each of them fits an archetype, just like a lot of functional groups does in this sort of game, with most of them being represented well. The fighter, the rogue, the cleric and the mage are all present, yet what they are capable of is shown in a more expansive way than the usual and basic representation that a lot of games fit them in. The action is quick, rather inventive, brutal and shows just how the world is going to be in this series. For that, it’s pretty fun.
The characters are also pretty memorable too, as Wiebe again knows how most adventuring groups in role-playing game functions. While they may be brute in combat, there is a certain dysfunction in this group that is refreshing to see, as the girls throw in snide remarks, moan and complain some of the time and gets in trouble because of their sometimes less-than-noble traits. With characters like Betty, who shows a bubbly personality despite her rather nonchalant behaviour toward violence and sex, Hannah, with her general habit of being sarcastic and perhaps a bit prone to anger, Dee, the bit more empathic and practical girl of the group and then Violet, the more reasonable of the group. Even some of the secondary characters gets some kind of personality that allows for them to be interesting, with prior history connected with the protagonists to boot.
It’s the interactions between each of them that allows for a lot of the fun of this series to shine, though. These are not noble heroes and fearsome do-gooders, but actual people with powers in a world that is not exactly a safe or even pretty one. The crudeness, the general use of bad language (though not in an excessive way) and the way those characters acts makes for a different kind of fantasy story. While I do appreciate eloquence and noble figures, I can certainly respect a consistency in terms of tones with both the characters and its setting, which is what Wiebe achieves here.
This tone, of course, is also matched with the story in general, as groups of adventurers are getting slaughtered by assassins, with many, but not all of them, being vanquished by their assailants. Right there, this give the opportunity to get the plot to progress a little, which is a good thing for a second issue to do. With the characters and the first story being set, this title does not lose a second in selling itself, which is a nice thing.
What also sells this issue is the art of Roc Upchurch, who manage to match the more unpleasant and gritty tone of the protagonists and the setting. The way the lines are clean in some areas, yet sketchy when it comes to finer details makes for a nice visual touch. The characters designs are also visually distinct, with each characters having a good number of traits that not only match their characters, but also make them diverse in terms of visuals. The action is fast, which is heavily helped by the panel layout in the first few pages when the Rat Queens are fighting the giant. Where it fails a bit, though, is with the backgrounds. A lot of the backgrounds are simply absent or full of very blurry details, which doesn’t really help in a lot of areas. While it is a nice touch and it allows the readers to focus on the characters instead, there is a certain inconsistency in terms of when there is supposed to be a background and when there isn’t. It’s minor, but it is there.
The colorization is nice a times, yet a lot of times there is an overwhelm of a particular color, which doesn’t help the art in some key pages. The heavy amount of grey, teal and brown in this comic do put upfront the fact that this isn’t exactly a beautiful world, yet it does lessen the impact of some of the visuals a bit in the process. There are others elements with different colorization that pops up in some panels to create a certain disparity in the huge presence of some colors, but it doesn’t amount to much in the process.
The Conclusion: There is a bit of a problem with the backgrounds and with the colorization, but the fun and crude setting, combined with the interesting characters and the fun way Wiebe plays with the regular fantasy tropes makes this book worth it. If you enjoy fantasy, role-playing games in general and want an all-female cast, this is the book for you.
-Hugo Robberts Larivière