If you like comics with entertaining female leads in a high fantasy, Dungeons & Dragons setting that still treats the world with a modern sensibility, then have I got a comic for you! Even if you only like two of those things, this comic is still for you. And if you don’t like any of those things, then what are you doing here and why aren’t you sitting in the corner?!
Okay, I’m gonna try to keep my cool while I talk about THE GREATEST COMIC EVER!!! Sorry, sorry, my computer is set to justified hyperbole right now and I can’t quite get the button unstuck. Working on it, I swear.
Anyway, for those unaware, Rat Queens is Kurtis J. Wiebe’s (Peter Panzerfaust) love letter to D&D that follows the titular Rat Queens, an all female group of adventurers who, along with several other questing groups, have caused a bit of a ruckus in the city of Palisade. Though they’ve been responsible for protecting the city by removing unwanted beasts, creatures, and general unpleasantness from the outskirts, the relative peace that’s settled has left the groups with little to do except cause trouble as they celebrate their victories with the rewards of drink and gold. The latest bar brawl caused by the Rat Queens ultimately puts the questing groups further on the outs and in order to avoid serving time in the dungeons for bad behavior and disrupting the peace, they’re assigned quests to keep them busy. The Rat Queens, consisting of Hannah, Dee, Violet, and Betty, are charged with cleaning out the goblins from the Hindman Cave, but it seems that they, and their cohorts, have more to be concerned about when an assassin shows up intent on ending their quests permanently.
You know that feeling where something is so good you have a hard time describing why it’s good because all you wanna do is shove it into the hands and faces of people so they can share the same experience? Rat Queens is a little like that. I’m probably what you’d call a casual gamer; I’ve dabbled in the D&D and my former roommate was a certified Dungeon Master (DM), so I’ve been involved and exposed enough to this game, and others like it, to know that Wiebe has perfectly captured not just the atmosphere of a D&D campaign, but also the mentality of gamers through their characters. Rat Queens is as much steeped in modern culture as it is in high fantasy, but blends the two together without one overshadowing the other. It’s not entirely meta like The Gamers Trilogy, but things like making the quest groups into cops in a crime procedural receiving assignments from their captain, giving the characters casual dialogue that still manages to mention elder gods and getting high on mushrooms, or Hannah’s “phone call” to her mother on a necromancer-infused relic feel like Wiebe is channeling the people who would be playing these characters in a game and just eliminating the middle man.
Let’s talk about the Rat Queens, shall we? Wiebe takes the standard four classes of a typical D&D game and applies them to the Queens, more or less. We have Hannah the mage with an attitude and penchant for shooting her mouth off, Dee the probable cleric and reformed cultist of N’Rygoth, Violet the eager fighter, and Betty the diminutive rogue with a hunger for candy, drugs, and sex. You don’t even need to pick a favorite because they’re all awesome. They may have a particular role within the group, but Wiebe doesn’t let that define them. The dialogue alone makes it very clear that nothing is off-limits and none of them are shy about expressing their opinions. These are four women who kick ass, take names, and enjoy what they do. If the book continues like it is, these are the standards by which female characters should be written, sans the potty mouths for the little ones.
Bringing this all together is Roc Upchurch’s art, which looks like it belongs in the D&D manuals. That’s a compliment, by the way. While he plays with the page composition from time to time, it’s the action sequence at the end between the Queens and the assassin that really makes the book come alive as you imagine this is how a campaign should go during a game session. I’m partial, however, to the roll call page of the various groups because how can you not want to know more about The Peaches, The Four Daves, The Brother Ponies, and The Obsidian Darkness? Well, maybe scratch the last one. The designs of the Rat Queens are amazing, each with a distinct look that manages to inform us, ever so slightly, of their role in the group. But it’s the expressions that really get me. I’m a sucker for squinty-eyed glares and unamused, cross-armed stances because they’re real reactions, not just poses required for the heroes to look heroic. And the more Hannah can look upset, the better. Seems to be her default and it works for her.
Final Thoughts: Blessed be unto N’Rygoth that Rat Queens has come to us! Let their journey be lauded in song! And go read it!