With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Of course, occasionally I may even explore comics outside of Marvel if they come highly recommended or simply peak my interest. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artist: Roc Upchurch
Issues: Rat Queens #1-5
Over the last few months I’ve been branching out from my Marvel bubble of comic reading – mostly into the open arms of Image Comics. Saga was my first love, but even its alien star-crossed love story greatness pales in comparison to my new all time favorite comic – Rat Queens.
It may be a tad of a knee jerk reaction considering I’ve only read the first five issues that compromise the first collected Volume, Sass and Sorcery. Never before have I been so pleasantly delighted by a combination of witty dialogue, intriguing world-building, amazing art, and just plain fun action and characters. Rat Queens may just be the best start to a new series I’ve ever read, and I’ve read quite a few.
Our story opens with our very Dungeons & Dragons style party as established adventurers around the city of Palisade. They get various jobs done but they’re also a bit like having a Frat next door, lots of hell-raising and drunken shenanigans. Oh, and they’re all women.
There’s Elven wizard Hannah, party leader, chief hell-raiser, and confident party girl. Violet is a defensive Dwarven warrior who’s serious about her craft and running from her heritage. The introverted Dee is a cleric from an exotic tribal land that worships a flying squid deity (that she wants no part of). Finally there’s precocious smidgen rogue Betty, always up for a good time but really a hopeless romantic at heart.
Like any good adventuring party our group takes on a quest to kill some goblins and sets out from town. Things quickly go awry when a shadowy assassin begins targeting rival adventuring groups, and soon the Rat Queens themselves. The violence and blood gets pretty intense. Given that this is a world of magical wizards and clerics, even our main cast can suffer pretty horrifying wounds and still be able to come back from them.
Our heroines fight hard, and play hard. After killing a gigantic troll with an impressive combination of skills and heroics and fending off the assassin, they return to Palisade where we get nice a balance of character drama and plot development. We learn about a possible past relationship between Hannah and dashing captain of the guard Sawyer when she gets arrested for trying to impersonate him via magic. Betty’s ex-girlfriend Faeyri doesn’t like the rest of the Rat Queens and Betty feels conflicted. We meet Violet’s twin brother Barrie who can nearly match her for badassery and wants her to return home.
The immediate plot of the mysterious assassinations of Palisade’s adventuring parties moves quickly as Betty sneaks into the merchant’s guilds and stumbles upon an elf shopkeeper paying off the assassin. Her and Sawyer defeat them, but the whole town suddenly comes under attack by a orc army led by a troll – the angry ex-girlfriend of the troll the Rat Queens killed in Issue #2.
The battle, which lasts a full issue and a half, is fun as hell as everyone wades in with copious amounts of screaming and blood-spraying. Conan, eat your heart out. The elf Bernadette is able to escape in the ensuing chaos, and I liked her motivation as wanting to get rid of these adventuring parties as their drunken revelries might cause more harm than the good they do.
Our heroines get a fun chance to unwind once again, and we get a fun tease toward the next major plot arc as Dee goes through the merchant’s scrolls Betty stole, and discovers that he actually helped fund Bernadette. Hopefully we get a bit more backstory on Dee as she was a bit underdeveloped compared to the other three (we get a brief glimpse of her leaving home in the final pages).
Rat Queens is just the perfect mix of action, comedy, and drama, all within the exciting and fun context of a D&D-style adventuring party. The fact that they’re all women is a fun twist on the normally male-centric genre, and the differing perspective helps make them infinitely more interesting than your standard stock fantasy characters. The dialogue is wonderfully modern as everyone swears constantly, one of the major reasons I also love Saga. Having an fascinating sci-fi or fantasy world, but making it more accessible through modern-style dialogue and characters is a fantastic trend that I’m loving in modern comics.
I haven’t even mentioned the fantastic art, a perfect blend of comic-book style exaggerations with realistic looking characters. Everyone strikes appropriately heroic and dramatic poses, and the moment to moment action is visceral and exhilarating.
Rat Queens could easily become my all time favorite comic book series if it can keep up the awesomeness contained in this first volume. Even judged on its own, Volume 1 is an amazing start to a fun new series. I laughed out loud more times that I ever having reading a comic, and once I started I was loath to put it down. I cannot recommend it enough if you have any interest in the fantasy genre, and I’m looking forward to devouring more issues in the newly released Volume 2!