REVIEW: THE RAT QUEENS VOL.1 : SASS AND SORCERY- by Kurtis Wiebe, illustrated by Roc Upchurch

Do you like irreverent humour? Creative action sequences? Great characters? Heroines who care more about marauding and fighting goblins than falling in love? A fun adventure? Do you like actual fun?

Well, if you answered yes to any of those questions, then Rat Queens is a graphic novel you need to check out.

The story is basically about a party of four friends who go on quests in an MMO inspired world. We have Betty, a tiny perverted Smidgen (a sort of tiny troll or hobbit) who’s funny, loves her drink and her ‘special’ mushrooms; Hannah, a gobby magic user with an attitude problem and an arsenal full of lethal spells and even more lethal comebacks; Violet, a rebellious Dwarf who’s trying to forge her own identity; Dee, a social awkward healer who comes from a culture who worships Cthulu-or as she puts it…

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As you can see, the art is amazing– I’ve read a lot of comics, graphic novels and manga recently, and honestly I can say that this has some of the best artwork I’ve seen- seconded only to the work J.H. Williams did on Batwoman and the work Paul Louise-Julie did on both Yohance and The Pack.

Everything’s bright and colorful in this graphic novel and the character designs are very distinct. This is especially unusual in a series with female leads.Usually, the artist can’t bear to make them look like anything other than his ideal of the perfect woman, and what you’ll get is five models with different hairstyles and hair colour. Here, however, we have this:

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Look at how different the heroines are from each other, with completely different different builds, face shapes, skin tones and expressions that tell you a lot about their character. And not only that, but all the expressions on the characters are really nuanced. Check out the look of love and vulnerability on Betty’s face:

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And this picture of Dee and Betty:

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You don’t need to read the dialogue-or know anything about the characters-to see that they are good friends;  you can just tell from that picture the level of playful ease Betty has with Dee, and the amount of affection Dee has towards Betty.

The story itself is very simple and easy to follow, which is exactly what you want from an introductory arc. With less panels devoted to explaining the convoluted mess  intricacies of the plot, more time can be devoted to what this series excels at: the humour, the characters, the friendships and the action sequences.

And are the action sequences excellent. The fight sequences are really, really creative and kinetic. I mean, just have a look at this page:

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It’ll use lines and colours as backgrounds to create the appearance of movement and then cut to a white or black background for the killing blow. This works incredibly well, and when the fights come the shapes of the sides of the panels themselves will become more diagonal and may overlap, giving the feeling of a world thrown into chaos.

There’s also a lot of creativity involved. As well as the fights, the humor is on target and it affectionately satirises MMO games- like how the poor citizens of Palisade and straight laced cop Sawyer (who is the traditional Lawful Good protagonist who has a sort of ‘dating Catwoman’ dynamic with Hannah), just want the town not to be destroyed by maauding questers. Even if you don’t play MMO games, even if you’ve at least heard of World Of Warcraft than you know enough to get the humor.

On top of that, we get to the real crown jewel of this series- the characters and their relationships. Even though it’s only the first volume, we have a reasonable idea of our central characters and some of their relationships. What matters is their friendship, which always feels realistic thanks to the art and good dialogue. They fight and bicker like sisters who know each other too well, but they also clearly love each other and enjoy each other’s company and always have each other’s backs. It’s so rare to see strong female relationships which aren’t familial, and a comic full of great female relationships is something special.

Another kuddos has to go the diversity. It is AMAZING.  It’s not often you’ll get important black or queer characters in a series (although both DC and marvel are both making genuine efforts to change that, what with Batwoman and the new Ms.Marvel), but here we have a black woman and a bi/ lesbian woman as two of our main four characters.

For POC, not only do we have Dee, but we also have the most prominent male love interest (who’s described as the most attractive by the other girls), a couple of supporting characters sprinkled about, but also Betty’s love interest Faeyri who appears to be Malaysian or from another dark skinned East Asian ethnicity. Speaking of which, Betty’s relationship is treated equally to the rest of the casts; the focus of the novel is friendship and adventuring, so we have a few warm, genuine scenes between them but nothing that encroaches on Romantic Subplot Tumour . And also, I like Faeyri’s design:

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I particularly enjoy how Betty’s interested in does have the short hair style and alternative dress sense that you see a lot of queer woman donning. Don’t get me wrong- there are a lot of bi/ lesbian women who conventionally feminine, and they’re great and it’s always good to see them in media, but it’s very unusual for a butcher woman to be the love interest, and object of desire. It’s great to see a tomboyish lesbian of color can be desirable too.

Honestly, with so much good, this I’ve already read this volume twice, and I’m delaying reading the third because I don’t want it to be over.

RATING: 5/5 stars

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