A Beginner’s Guide to: Rat Queens
I’ve been putting off writing about this series, since as of last week there are only four issues, but I can’t wait any longer. I love this series, by Kurtis J Wiebe and John “Roc” Upchurch, that blends parody with genuine plot and character-building. The basic concept is simple, and the first issue sets it up admirably. A loving send-up of RPGs, the series follows an all-lady mercenary band called the Rat Queens, consisting of, according to early previews, “Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric and Betty the Hippy Hobbit Thief.” Anyone who has played an RPG, or even read much fantasy fiction, will recognize most of the tropes at play in the character descriptions alone, and there’s a lot more where that came from.
The first issue has the mercenaries dealing with an unknown foe who is trying to wipe them out, but unraveling that plot isn’t exactly the focus of the first arc. It provides a structure, certainly, but this series is more concerned with letting its characters get into brawls, but balanced with moments of character development. The language alone makes this series 18+ but you’ve also got sexual references and bloody violence to make the most jaded among us happy. If those aren’t your thing, the sense of humor and wonderful characters might balance the more vulgar aspects.
The Queens fight alongside other mercenary groups like the “Brother Ponies,” spend the last of their money on drugs and candy, and speak in a distinctly modern (and foul-mouthed) fashion; Wiebe breathes life into fantasy and RPG tropes by imbuing them with a contemporary flair. Upchurch has designed characters who play to the stereotypes of women’s clothing in the genre, but makes them slightly more practical than the average (check out Violet’s outfit, no bare skin to be seen, which makes sense for a dwarf). He also shies away from the “boobs and butt” cheesecake poses that dominate women in fantasy comics, and gives them radically different figures. Even aside from species differences, Upchurch has design 4 women with very different body shapes (with more added every issue), and he isn’t afraid to contort their faces into delightfully exaggerated expressions. Wiebe gives them diversity of background as well; from the first issue we learn that Betty is interested in other ladies, and has a sweet moment with an ex-girlfriend in the third issue. There are supporting figures like Braga the Troll and Captain of the city guard, Sawyer, who are endearing and memorable after minor appearances. The series is just getting started, so it’s mainly laughs and action sequences at this point, but I’m looking forward to learning more about each character, since Wiebe and Upchurch have obviously given a lot of thought into developing interesting characters to support the series’ bawdy antics.
Even after only 4 issues, this series is one of my favorites, and the short span makes it easy to jump into for new readers (a collection will be available on March 19). The series is still speeding up; each issue is raunchy and hilarious, but we’re only starting to see the characters’ backstories in detail, and to see some of them demonstrate skills other than punching things. Another great reason to jump in now is that the creators are hugely active on social media! In my experience, they’ll find any Tweet with “Rat Queens” in it, and favorite or respond to fans even if not directly addressed. Through their often-updated Facebook page, they have resolved to host group video chats on the Saturday preceding each issue’s release, so if you’d like to chat with creators about their work, this is a great opportunity. This series was voted IGN’s Best New Series of 2013, so start reading now and see why.