Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe

Drawn by Roc Upchurch

Published by Image Shadowline

Perhaps I wanted to like “Rat Queens” a bit more than I did. It’s a very good book, make no mistake. The art is gorgeous in an ultra-violent sort of way, the characters are interesting, diverse, and well-used, and the action is intense. But there’s just something about this comic that didn’t impress me as much as I hoped it would.

It sounds like I’m damning this book with faint praise, and I suppose I am. It is a gory, snarky ‘Swords and Sassery’ comic in the exact same vein as Jim Zubb and Edwin Huang’s ‘Skull Kickers.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite hit its beats as well.

The eponymous Rat Queens are a quartet of adventuring ladies in the familiar mold: Dwarf Fighter, Human Cleric, Elf Wizard, and Smidgen (I E Halfling) Rogue. They, and the rest of the adventuring parties, are causing a problem for the town of Palisade. All they do is drink and fight, and it’s hurting property values. When the local Captain sends them all out on quests to get them out of his hair, the Rat Queens soon discover that they’ve been set up, and assassins are on their trail.

The dialogue is snappy, filthy, and funny, but the plot is pretty bare-bones. It feels a bit too caught up in the conventions of a certain unnamed table-top Role Playing Game. While the comic starts out as a parody there comes a point where you’re not lamp-shading tropes, you’re just using them. I think that’s what disappoints me about this comic. It’s so gamey that it doesn’t have much weight to it, even when extras are being cut in half and stabbed in the eye. There’s not any real conflict in all this slaughter. I’d have liked the Rat Queens to have come up against something a bit more epic. This first volume is all random encounters.

I do like the fact that Wiebe and Upchurch really put some thought into the design and structure of the world, giving it a real multicultural feel without seeming as forced as the other aspects. The all-female team of adventurers is not presented as strange or even particularly transgressive in the world of the comic. This doesn’t just apply to gender roles, either. Race in Palisade means a bit more than white with pointed ears or white with a beard and a highlands accent. “Rat Queens” presents modern fantasy pulp perfectly by including modern gender and racial equality, and never even calling attention to itself for it. Diversity can be a touchy subject in science fiction and fantasy, with a small but vocal minority demanding the ‘authenticity’ of confirming a bias towards Straight, White and Male. The Rat Queens are here to kick ass and quaff ale, and they don’t care how much blood gets on their outfits. That’s really refreshing, if messy.

“Rat Queens” is a style-over-substance battlefield romp with four lady mercenaries who say ‘fuck.’ Quite a lot, actually. It’s not for kids, but it is an entertaining but character-sheet thin comic for adults. If you’re caught up on “Skull Kickers” and nostalgic for your multi-sided dice, “Rat Queens” might be the comic you’re looking for.