Rat Queens, is a riveting and raucously emotive comic in which the rich world building of Fantasy meets the comical camaraderie of Bridesmaids but this story is not your classic anything. It carries in its plot a very rich emotive quality that pulls you into the world of the Rat Queens. It’s totally its own unique kind of narrative which can be an extremely difficult feat to accomplish given there are so many comics and graphic novels out there.
The first thing for which I give a tip of the cap to the writer of Rat Queens is his development of group camaraderie before the plot of the story gets too far along. This is something that American comic creators and graphic novelists often neglect. I find that stories that provide me with a strong sense of character dynamics earlier in the story tend to illicit a stronger connection with the characters for me. And this often carries on throughout the story. Manga are very big on this. They usually give you one or two minor arcs of the story to develop a strong sense of camaraderie or other important character dynamics at the beginning of their series. I think that is part of the reason that readers have such strong emotive connections with manga and anime characters. In Rat Queens, writer Kurtis J. Wiebe takes that crucial time required to get readers acquainted with his characters. It adds so much to the plot when you know the characters with enough intimacy to internalize the mental and emotional processes they go through in experiencing plot developments. It creates an intrinsic empathetic connection between you and the ladies in the story.
The story so far is truly inventive. The original set up you are introduced to feels kind of like an RPG with a party of friends going on quests and getting into various precarious adventures which place life and limb in danger. The fact that their are different races or classes of people adds to that RPG feel as well. The are ogres, dwarfs, demons, elves, orcs, dragons, humans and a number of other life forms that I honestly can’t place. But if you are not into that kind of thing then don’t let that bit turn you off in any way. Although you get that RPG feel up front, it actually has little bearing on the meat of the story. It is more a characteristic of the setting than an important element of the plot. The story reads far different than anything of the sort. And early into the story, it turns into something very familiar. Something decidedly more realistic in nature than you could ever expect. It is steeped in familiar story elements that transcend genre. You know… That group of talented yet obnoxious friends that is both hated and loved by the people in the community. You know… That vulgar group that seems to stay in trouble but is also always there to help save the day. You know… That group that would do anything for each other while simultaneously being each other’s harshest critics. I really enjoy these kinds of stories. And it is really cool to see that within a fantasy world in which mysticism and quest parties exist with tons of action against monsters, evil mages and dragons.
And that mysticism is a big part of what draws me to the story. It is done in a very interesting way. Especially in regards to the human cleric Dee. She is an atheist who practices the magic of a people who are devout cultist. You will be blown away when you learn more about the reality of the cult to which she once belonged. Dee herself is shaken to her core by revelations about her cult of which she becomes aware through an incredible plot twist. It leaves her in an extremely awkward space. And that leads the reader into a very interesting thought process in regards to her as a character.
The other members of the Rat Queens have their own complex stories as well. The author shares focus fairly evenly among the main characters so you get a great feel for each of them. There is Hannah, the crazy yet highly sensitive half demon, half elven mage who contracts with a demon back in her days at Mage University where she studied the mystical arts before being kicked out for apparently demonic shenanigans. Her family is also at the heart of an involved power struggle in the world of mages. Then there is the dwrarven warrior Violet who leaves her home as the princess of a drarven kingdom to adventure. Ironically, she is going against her culture by shaving her luxurious beard and participating in fighting. The smallest member of the party, literally the smallest, is the halfling Betty who to me is the glue of the group. She is an accomplished warrior and a stellar thief. And in both her free and busy time she enjoys mixing candies and drugs in what must easily be the most unhealthy diet imaginable.
The fight scenes are awesome as well. They are drawn with this unusual mix of stylized magic use, hand to hand combat and gory depictions of battle realities. It’s a bit different that how most comics tend to do it. I am guessing that it has something to do with the RPG style feel of it all. It’s fairly difficult to explain given I can’t provide a relevant frame of reference for it to help make you understand but you will get my gist if you take a look at it. Its in tiny things that are different from regular super powered fighting comic illustration.
This comic has received a great deal of critical acclaim. It was nominated for the 2014 Eisner Award for best new series and also won the 2015 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book for its portrayals of LGBT characters. The first compiled volume also scored a nomination for the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Narrative.
Others have made a great deal about sex and sexual orientation in the Rat Queens narrative. And they might find me remiss in not really placing any emphasis on this part of the series but I really don’t want to get that much into it. Not because I think of it as a taboo topic or disagree with it, but although the story has received praise for its portrayal of LGBT characters I don’t think that the sexuality of the characters is a key element of the story. Yeah. Their are some pretty steamy sexual scenes in the comic but that is in no way at the core of the story. And that is why I think it won a GLAAD award in the first place. Probably because it is not treated with deep emphasis in the story. It is just a part of the reality of a few characters but it isn’t used to drive the story and although I wouldn’t know first hand, I have to imagine that people in the LGBT community don’t want stories to be only about their sexual orientation just as others don’t want stories that overly rely on race to drive a story. Yes, there are numerous cases in which race or sexual orientation will be deeply involved in a story making them driving plot mechanisms but this story isn’t one of those narratives. And so I am neglecting to delve into sexuality at length in my appreciation of Rat Queens because I would be doing a disservice to the overall narrative by heavily keying in on what is a minor element of the story. Maybe I am wrong about it but that is how I see it.
The point is that Rat Queens is an amazing comic book series filled with all the qualities that make readers fall in love with the characters and the story. Go get to know the ladies.