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

THE LEGEND OF ZELDA TELEVISION SHOW: WILL IT EVER HAPPEN, AND IF SO WHAT WOULD WE LIKE TO SEE FROM LINK AND ZELDA?

For a long time there have been rumors about a Legend of Zelda television series appearing on Netflix (and no, it has nothing to do with that series- because it never happened). It was first reported in this article here, with claims that the series will be like ‘a family friendly game of thrones episode’- presumably instead of the elaborate betrayals, the big plot twist in a Zelda series would be: ‘Oh no! The green thief King with evil eyes is actually the villain! Who saw that coming? (Seriously, how was Princess Zelda the only one who saw this coming?)

However, the owners of the rights to Zelda have since claimed the original article was not based on fact, but have not stated definitively that it won’t happen- suggesting that they would not rule out the possibility. It’s very unlikely to happen, but if it did? How could they make it good? Well, the difficulties would start with the two main heroes: Link and Zelda.

The Hero- How Are We Going To Give This Guy A Personality?

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Over 25 years and our tight wearing warrior still hasn’t uttered a word or received much in the way of characterisation

Making Link into a decent hero is my biggest doubt about why this series could work. As pointed out by this article, Link’s personality is the biggest stumbling block in making this series good. Link has always been a bank slate player insert, and no personality  to speak of (except Windwaker Link, but they’re hardly going to go with the Windwaker canon for this show). He is never proactive, only reactive to certain situations, and his actions are solely based on requests and instructions from the people around him. So how do we give this guy a personality?

But if they do it right, this could be an opportunity to give Link a real personality for the first time. One thing that could translate well is his sheer determination; he travels day and night to save Hyrule; he witnesses all the worlds he traveled in ruin. His childhood friend remains a child while he’s become an adult- showing how much he’s lost and far away he is from his chilldhood innocence. I think the personality that would best suit him would see him start off as a carefree, spirited child who is forced to grow up too fast (literally) to save the world, and transforms into a fire forged hero. Either way, I think a lot of his growth would be pushed forwards by the people around him. And no character dynamic will be as important as his dynamic with Princess Zelda.

The Princess-Make Her A Badass Strategist

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If this series is going to do well, our resident damsel in distress really needs to stop damselling and start being an awesome character (or stay an awesome character throughout the game. Not take a level in badass and then turn into a flailing victim the minute she puts on a dress- looking at you, Sheik and Tetra). In some of the earlier articles there was talk about it being ‘a boy rescues girl’ story, but that would be a horrible choice for a tv show.

A high fantasy setting, a pretty-boy lead and a magical Princess (not to mention the amount of prominent females this series have) are things that are really going to appeal more to girls- and I honestly think fifty percent (or more) of the potential audience would be female.  We had fought our issues with damsel-in-distress princesses with Disney; now they’ve upped their game with Tiana, Elsa and Anna, and they’re about to up it again with Moana. We expect better and don’t need another 50s Disney princess; now we expect a Princess who’s capable and an interesting character. Zelda needs to be a strong lead. But strong in what way?

When people talk about wanting to make Zelda stronger, they always talk about her improvement in terms of physical prowess. However, what I would like to see from the Princess isn’t necessarily turning her into Zelda: warrior princess  (or Zelda: Warrior Queen like in Hyrule Warriors). Zelda’s the holder of the Triforce of Wisdom, and I always wanted to see her come into her own as a strategist and leader, someone who planned the next move while Link went and collected the Triforce Shards/ Sages etc. In the games her ‘Wisdom’ is more like ‘special purity pureness spirit power’ and her track record for strategy was appalling. Imagine if she became a good leader in the series.

Imagine if Gandorof’s forces were at Hyrule’s Gate; the Royal Family had fallen and Zelda was the last ruler left to defend it. While Link has to travel around the world on a desperate quest to get the Spiritual Stones, Zelda has to quickly learn to become ruler and hold the kingdom, while trying to form diplomatic relations with the Zora and the Gorons. That would be a hell of a lot more interesting than ‘Help! I’m trapped in crystal!’ (why didn’t Ganondorf use the same spell to capture Link? Why does he underestimate Link every single game and go after Zelda? Leave Zelda for later- take out Link first.) So, if the series ever happened, what I’d love to see most from Zelda is not just someone who’s a good fighter, but a brilliant leader.

Would a Legend Of Zelda series on Netflix be a good idea? What would you like to see? I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments.