-J. is a writer for the Addison Recorder. Steph works in a comic book shop. They’re married and have a lot of discussions about comic books & graphic novels. Combine all that into a regular feature and you get “J. & Steph Talk About Comics.”
J. & Steph Talk About Comics: the Pilot Episode
For our inaugural discussion, we’re looking at the comic book that inspired us to do this series. High fantasy, tons of RPG elements, snark, wit, and the most ass-kicking characters this side of a d20 — Rat Queens. Volume 1 is collected in the graphic novel, “Sass and Sorcery,” and volume 2 is currently on its second issue in comic book format.
-J. Michael Bestul: With words by Kurtis J. Wiebe and art by Roc Upchurch, Rat Queens is–
Stephanie Ruehl: Awesome. It is awesome.
-J.: Yes, it is, but I figured we’d give the lowdown on the book before we delved into the discussion. Right. So. Rat Queens is published by Image in single issues and collected in trade paperbacks, and–
Steph: –and everybody needs to read it.
-J.: I agree that Rat Queens is awesome and that everybody should read it. But we need to tell everybody why it is absolutely imperative that they read this series.
Steph: Because it’s good!
-J.: Yes, but why? When you give this book to our friends, why do you think it hooks them?
Steph: For me, at first, it was the humor. The laugh-out-loud-on-a-crowded-train-during-rush-hour-and-not-caring-that-everybody-is-staring-at-you kind of humor. I handed the book to a friend, and he decided to buy a copy after only reading the character blurbs in the front. The humor was followed closely by the role-playing game (RPG) aspect. A lot of our friends are gamers, and I could see them playing these exact kind of characters themselves. Don’t get me wrong, though, you do not have to be a gamer to enjoy this series. Finally, there was the bad-assery. It’s a story of four women adventurers who are strong, clever, and snarky. I couldn’t not make my friends — and anyone else who would listen — read it.
-J.: Aye, I had no choice in whether or not to read it, and you were right. I was hooked right at the start of the first scene: the title characters finish a bar brawl right into a meeting with the town’s guard captain, and Betty asks him to expound upon his metaphor of a dragon getting its dick tickled.
-J.: I yearned to know who these magnificent bastards were, and what their story was.
Who These Magnificent Bastards Are
-J.: Rat Queens follows a group of four adventurers-for-hire in a world that feels right at home in a game of Dungeons & Dragons. They fight together as a bawdy foursome known as the Rat Queens (hence the name of the series). The band consists of:
- Dee, the introverted human cleric & former cultist,
- Hannah, the rockabilly elven mage,
- Violet, the hipster dwarven fighter, and
- Betty, the smidgen rogue with a penchant for booze & candy, often mixed together.
Steph: Right off the bat you get the idea that these women: A) are not to be trifled with, and B) would be a riot to hang out with. To me, a story is most successful when the writer makes me care about the characters, and I started caring about these girls almost immediately.
-J.: Every character has a depth to him or her. Even the throwaway characters seem to have a story behind them (Obsidian Darkness, we hardly knew ye). The ability to juggle so many memorable and grounded characters — and keep them memorable — is a skill the X-Men movies wish they could harness. In Rat Queens, though, not only can they get away with an ensemble of supporting characters, they can even give a bunch of them the same name and I can still tell all the Daves apart.
The ‘F’ Word
-J.: I concur, and I think that’s a really good point that deserves its own section.
Steph: The world that Wiebe and Upchurch created feels like strong women characters, and not only “strong” women characters, but all women characters, are just a normal part of life. I can relate, as a female, but without specifically relating to the real world treating women as “less than.” It’s a work of feminism, under the dictionary definition: ‘the political, social, and economic equality of the sexes.’ In this case, it’s the fighting, plotting, spell-casting, beer-quaffing equality of the sexes.
-J.: And it’s not the kind of equality where the characters are little more than the cookie-cutter “Strong Independent Female #3.” You have Braga, the half-orc barbarian in the Xena / Wonder Woman mold, except way more violent (if blood is the language, she’s the alphabet). You have Dee, who had the courage to defy her parents’ religious beliefs, but can’t overcome her introversion at a party. You have Betty. Oh my gods, you have the indescribable awesomeness of Betty.
-J.: On the opposite side, you also have the pitiable wannabe-antagonist, whose reversal almost lands her in the ‘damsel’ trope. Almost. Considering the preview pages I’ve seen from volume 2, this also gets turned on its head.
Steph: I can tell you what happens to her in issue #7. Shit gets real.
-J.: Ah! No! Don’t tell me! I want to read it first.
Remember — You’re The Badass Here
-J.: Okay, I’m not usually the kind of person who tries to avoid spoilers. I rarely get invested enough in a TV show or comic book series that I have to see or read it. Rat Queens, however, is a roller coaster of narrative delight. The last series (TV, comics, or otherwise) to grab me like this was Venture Bros., which also thrives on the “hook them quick, and pull them along for one helluva ride.” Rat Queens does that from page one.
Steph: Instantly. It’s not like it needs to set up stuff, and then you have to wait a bit for an awesome story. Fun. Right away fun.
-J.: The storytelling is clever, and the creators follow the golden rule of action narrative: “make interesting choices and then find a way to make them plausible.” That quote’s taken from Kenneth Hite’s RPG, Night’s Black Agents, under some advice to the game’s players: “Remember — You’re the Badass Here.” It perfectly describes the narrative style of Rat Queens, the fast-paced high fantasy action with Vaudevillian humor that would have the Marx Brothers or Shakespeare’s groundlings cheering.
-J.: Y’know, while we’re talking RPGs…
-J.: I have to give the meta-fictional aspect of Rat Queens its own section. I gravitate towards stories that have a self-awareness, and this series is very aware of the d20 RPGs it draws from. Things like the fact that it’s anachronistic and ahistorical. Or that so many of the adventurer bands are built with balanced racial & class selections (as veteran players are wont to do), or that an issue ends with the exclamation that we all get “+5 on attack rolls against dudes named Gary.” Yet, despite the grounding in the world of fantasy RPGs, it doesn’t read like someone re-telling their last campaign to a captive and bored audience. It’s a rollicking good adventure.
Steph: Word. Read it. Please.
To Sum It All Up…
We absolutely love the Rat Queens, if that wasn’t apparent. It’s a fun, off-color, fast-paced fantasy action/adventure story. The series is currently on issue #8, available at your friendly local comic book store — if they haven’t already sold out of it. Issues #1-5 are collected in vol. 1, “Sass and Sorcery.”)