Comics Vixen: Rat Queens
I rarely pick favorites. But if someone were to put a deadly magic wand to my head and demand to know what my favorite comic series is, I’d probably say Rat Queens. It’s no coincidence that I’ve given this book as a birthday present twice in the past two weeks alone. This is a universally likable series—a lovable series, really, if you’re into strong, fearless women and really great parties.
A note before I go on: Yes, Rat Queens has been out for a while, and yes, it’s hardly an undiscovered secret. It’s so big that the creators got their own panel at Emerald City Comic Con this year. If you’re someone who follows comics—at least, who follows Image comics—you’ve almost certainly read Rat Queens. But this is a column for people who are new to reading comics, who might be walking into a comic shop for the first time ever and trying to decide what they should read. For those who want to keep up with the newest and latest, there are review columns out there that stay ahead of the curve! But this one has a different intent.
So, yeah. Rat Queens. I was sold on the quality of the series the instant I started reading, but one of the things that really clinched it for me was hearing the creators talk about it at the ECCC panel. The way Kurtis J. Wiebe, the writer behind the series, described it as “Lord of the Rings meets Sex and the City.” I can’t think of a better way to put it. I keep buying it for all my cool girlfriends (and a few guys too) because it covers many of the coming-of-age issues people my age can relate to, but does so in such a ridiculously fun way that the drama never drags you down. Four talented and stylish young mercenary women just trying to make money and get laid, but they end up saving the day instead? So relatable.
Dee, Violet, Hannah, and Betty are like the group of friends from your favorite classic T.V. show. Instantly, I started trying to pin down which one I identify with most. Some people get called the Carrie Bradshaw of their friend group. I’d rather be the Hannah. Although they live in a much smaller town than the ladies of Sex and the City did, the Rat Queens still manage to keep things lit 24/7. Bored with mercenary work in a town that they’ve made too safe, the series opens on the four of them starting a bar brawl just to have something to do. But things quickly get interesting again. Get ready for murderous conspiracies, epic battles, and drug-fueled parties where almost everyone gets laid.
Even though the Rat Queens live in a world of magic, cults, and swordplay, underneath all the fun are some very real and human characters. Navigating their friendship with each other across strong personalities would be enough, but the four are also navigating the baggage they have from growing up, past relationships, and identity crises. Whether it’s Dee questioning the religion she was raised with or Violet combatting the gender-specific traditions of her family, the girls face issues that we’re familiar with here in the real world. It’s rare to find a comic—or any story form, really—that balances fun and depth with the level of dexterity that Rat Queens does, and that’s a major reason why I love this series.
Beyond that, though, are several other great qualities. The artwork is gorgeous. And the way the visual story is told is more accessible than some comics. In a lot of books I find that the pages can be visually pleasing, but try to fit in so much action that it takes a few passes to figure out what’s going on. Rat Queens manages to register all of the visual excitement without any of the confusion, even in the wildest battle scenes. And then there’s the fashion: although it’s geared toward the fantasy world the Rat Queens live in, the influences on their clothes definitely come from real modern style. The artists do a beautiful job of giving each woman her own fashion sense without putting them in the exact same outfit every day.
The most compelling thing, though, has got to be the way relationships are explored in this series. Visual and storytelling elements combine to give us a real, unsugarcoated look at all the complicated forms love can take. The Rat Queens value their friendships with each other above family and romance, which is something girls in the real world catch a lot of flack for—and the Queens do too. But they never let it get in their way. Each one is a woman who has set her priorities on her own. That sense of self has led them to realize that your friends have your back in a more permanent way than any lover and often, any family member does. Even though the writer of Rat Queens is a man, it’s a really feminist lesson in what is a pretty flawlessly feminist book.
You can take it from me, but you should probably just read it for yourself. By the way—anyone want to do a Rat Queens group costume for Halloween?