REVIEW: RAT QUEENS VOLUME 1: SASS AND SORCERY
Humor is one of those things that I often stay away from in entertainment. All too often, it just doesn't appeal to me. I get the sense that writers think they're more clever than they actually are or that the sense of humor is so far beyond the boundaries of what I consider reality that it just doesn't feel authentic. For me, jokes are best served in the midst of misfortune or general angst. Life can definitely be funny if you choose to look at it in such a way, but its not all jokes and laughs all the time. Humor is an important part of the human condition and like any other human element, it feels flat when too much emphasis is placed upon it. That's why when a work manages to create a silly tale that is balanced out with other emotional qualities, it resonates with me in the way that all fiction should. RAT QUEENS is a series that managed to make me laugh throughout it's pages while also feeling connected to the characters, story, and world.
HOW I CAME UPON IT
As part of the BookTubeSFF Awards readalongs, I am picking two books from each of the reading months and participating in the group discussions. In the month of August, one title I took note of was RAT QUEENS VOLUME 1: SASS AND SORCERY by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch. One thing that stood out about this is that it was a graphic work. As I've mentioned in a previous post, I don't read a ton of graphic literature and this series seemed like a really great place to read something other than the INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US series. I also bought this in print (I didn't see any option for an eBook edition) so I got to experience this type of fiction in a new medium as well! I had high hopes for this because of all the good things people had to say about it, but went in with a relatively blank slate as to what I was really in for. So here's how it turned out for me:
HOW I RATED IT
4/5 I wouldn't go so far as to say that I thought this was an outstanding collection of comics. I think it was a really good one that was immensely satisfying throughout, but still struggled in some key areas.
The characters featured in RAT QUEENS are by far the most consistently exceptional parts of this
|A look at the different mercenary bands|
All four of these ladies are very beautiful, but in a more normalized way. That is to say that their bodies are proportioned such that they have curves that are still appealing, but are also fare more accurate to what an actual woman would be shaped like. What's more is their costumes feel a lot more respectful. I don't know if I'd say they're modest so much as they simply seem to be designed with a bit more care than the typical fantasy attire. These ladies do like to show some skin, but their clothes don't look painted on, they fall like actual cloth which contributes greatly to the sense that these are real people. I found them easier to connect with because they looked this way and honestly found them far sexier than your average "sexy" comic book lady. The female form is still celebrated, it's just done so in a far more stylish, respectful, and down-to-earth way. It gets even better too once you get past the superficial differences.
The vast plethora of side characters are equally wonderful. The Four Daves (another mercenary band) was a total hoot even though they are largely just background characters. Then there is Braga, "Old Lady" Bernadette, and a whole host of other great sides that add a nice flavor to each of the issues without ever detracting from our leading ladies. Captain Sawyer Silver is probably one of the more prominent side-presences and he interacts with the Rat Queens in a fun and believable way. Overall, the cast is just flawless from the main protagonists all the way down to the people that you will only see in a scattered few panels.
I mentioned before that this is the type of thing that Fantasy regulars will feel right at home in. This is absolutely true for the setting which takes place exclusively in and around the city of Palisade. This isn't really a sprawling adventure story, but rather one that is a bit more concentrated on the affairs of a single part of the world. That may be a bit disappointing to some, but for me this made for a far more meaningful story since the writers weren't spending precious time delivering exposition on new
locations at every turn. We get to know Palisade in the first issue and that becomes the center of our attention until the final page is turned. Fortunately it is an interesting and diverse enough city that I never really felt curious about other places in the world. In fact, I would have been vastly disappointed if I was ever torn away because the city is a sprawling space that is staggeringly beautiful to look at and one that holds a lot of intrigue as well. In a very true to life way, Palisade felt like the entire world or at leas the only part that really mattered.
Fortunately, the backdrops aren't all urban. There are points where the adventurers must go out beyond the city walls, but they never go too far. It was nice to see the lush wilderness that surrounds Palisade since it offered a more diverse set of scenery to enjoy. I don't know if this place ever really takes on a certain character of it's own, but it certainly offered a worthy backdrop for all of the wonderful personalities to exist in. Perhaps part of this potential shortcoming comes from the fact that the plotline doesn't quite keep up with the rest of this story's elements.
This all sort of falls apart once Chapter 3 comes around and we get a bit of a break from the main thread. There was a lot of potential with the mysterious killer theme since a lot of people in the town harbored resentment toward the mercenaries and some might have had cause to want them dead. The twist that comes at the end of this chapter wasn't something I expected, but it also wasn't terribly shocking nor did it solve the mystery in an especially satisfying way. We get glimpses at the various background stories for the Queens, but a lot of it feels like a setup for stories to come rather than anything that actually holds any impact in this volume. Scenes featuring Betty and Violet felt particularly unfulfilling in this issue and these loose ends really aren't at all tied up since Chapters 4 and 5 are more focused on a battle that occurs. The end of five sees resolution to some things, but ends things with a lot more questions than before. There's still some potential with the plot to kill the Queens and some extra layers have been added to that scheme, but I didn't walk away with a satisfying conclusion to the main story arch. To be completely clear on this end, I'm not at all saying the story is nonexistent or weak, it's just that I didn't feel a sense of true completion upon flipping those last pages of the book. This does pose a bit of a problem as I'm left to wonder if the writers really have any interest in granting readers that sort of satisfaction since every single issue ended with a cliffhanger of sorts. This may not be altogether irregular for a comic series which wants readers to keep buying the next installments, but at the same time, I can only go so long without having SOMETHING closed off in a rewarding way.
As for the overall tone of this piece, I've mentioned that this is indeed a really funny piece of fiction. It is also a very gruesome one and is at times a bit somber. Hannah's sour belligerence, Betty's wacky silliness, and Violet's never-ending struggle to come up with a badass one liner all make for fantastically hilarious moments. There is a mix of stereotypical fantasy-speak mixed in with modern day slang that just works so well. Then there is the absolutely gruesome gore that comes in copious amounts. There were some shots that literally had me cringing and perhaps a little queasy. That said, the action is wonderful and isn't so overdone that it felt tiresome. Some of my favorite moments from this volume came from the battles that the Queens get themselves into. All of this is remarkably well supported by the gorgeous visuals that grace the pages of this book.
RAT QUEENS VOLUME 1: SASS AND SORCERY is something I can easily recommend to just about everyone. There is a little something for people of all types to enjoy here. The best part is I could see seasoned comic readers loving this every bit as much as complete newbies to the medium. My only caveat to all this is that you really shouldn't pick it up if you're intention is to stop at this volume. VOLUME 1 is a wonderful introduction to a lush world with vibrant characters, but it does not really tell a story from beginning to end, at least not in a way that feels truly satisfying. I certainly enjoyed it a great deal and fully intend to see what VOLUME 2 has to offer, but will also be going in with some skepticism over whether or not I will really be getting any more fulfillment out of it. In either case, I am very happy I gave this series a chance and look forward to picking up the next installment!
RAT QUEENS VOLUME 1: SASS AND SORCERY collects issues 1-5 in the series and can be picked up in paperback format on Amazon.