Friday 8 August 2014

Rat Queens

Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch, 2014
(July 2014)

Now y’see sass is one of those words that rubs me up the wrong way. Just a little mind, more of a brief flick than a full on rub, but it undeniably goes against the grain and leads to what should be a very pleasant sensation feeling a little awkward for all concerned.
Sorry, what? Oh, the comic. Right you are. So the word sass is undeniably gendered and when used in reference to a work of fiction unfortunately promises that other passion-killer, a strong female character* which, let’s be honest, is only the smallest of inappropriate masturbation allusions away from feisty or worst of all, spunky. Christ alive, save us all from spunky.

However, one of the most common flaws with the strong female character is the article; there’s usually only one of them and thus they must carry the weight of their entire gender upon their (sassy, feisty) shoulders. Look at that cover; Rat Queens gives you not one but four of the bastards, so sidesteps that particular issue right from the get-go. In fact, when all’s said and done, this manages to sidestep pretty much all of the issues I was worried about when I saw the S-word on the cover. The spunk is, mercifully, kept to a bare minimum.

Hannah, Dee, Violet, and Betty are the eponymous Rat Queens, a crew of mercenaries based in Palisade, a by-the-numbers D&D town cursed with an unusually high number of them. And there’s some more set up and worldbuilding and stuff but I can’t be arsed with a smoother transition so let’s just start listing the stuff I liked, shall we? Rat Queens is:

l  Funny
l  Violent
l  Sexy
l  Funny again.

Also very well written by someone who obviously loves the genre but is certainly not blind to its weaknesses and idiocies. I doubt it’s a coincidence that the mercenary crew with the most stereotypical teenage-boy’s-idea-of-cool name – Obsidian Darkness­ – gets killed off within the first dozen pages, leaving us with The Queens, Four Daves, and Peaches. I particularly enjoyed the subversion of the traditional Gimli/Legolas inter-species rivalry (“How in all hells did that thing sneak up on us? You’re the one with elven eyes! Elven eyes!”), Violet’s continued struggle with premeditated wit in the heat of battle (“Rat Queens put the sexy back in large wholescale slaughter!”), and perhaps most of all the tribulations of the ill-starred Gary.

Rat Queens just does the little things well. Very well. The point at which I knew for sure I was in safe authorial hands was when a seemingly throwaway line about a ring comes back around at the end of the volume. Foreshadowing is like refereeing: when it’s done well you shouldn’t notice it. The art is very cool (despite all the red noses; it’s like the characters are slightly drunk all the time) and the sense of movement and weight is palpable during the fight scenes, of which there are many. Most of all though, even though it’s early days, you are given enough of the characters to actually care about them, and that, as you know, is the hook off which everything else must hang.

Just a shame about the sass, really.

*Strong Female Protagonist, however, gets my full endorsement.

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