Saturday, April 30, 2016

REVIEW: RAT QUEENS VOLUME 2: THE FAR REACHING TENTACLES OF N'RYGOTH

INTRODUCTION 
The Queens come back for a second helping and they hold nothing back this time. There's more blood, more irreverent dialogue, and borderline pornographic levels of nudity. When I reviewed RAT QUEENS VOLUME 1: SASS AND SORCERY I praised the volume's constructive approach to feminism and how much each of the characters shined, but criticized it's lack of focus when it came to the central narrative. I certainly didn't think it had a bad story, it was just clear to me that there were bigger things coming and that most of the first volume was meant to simply develop the characters and define the world. For what it was trying to accomplish, I think it did a marvelous job and was very excited to jump into this series' second volume.

HOW I RATED IT 
4/5 I definitely liked RAT QUEENS VOLUME 2: THE FAR REACHING TENTACLES OF N'RYGOTH every bit as much as I enjoyed the first installment. It does address some, but not all, of my issues with the previous volume, and there were a couple of new little problems that I had. It's a fantastic read overall though that builds off of the first five issues quite nicely.

CHARACTERS
There's a lot more depth to the characters
this time around
Our queens are back and better than ever. In this volume, we get a even more insight into who these  young woman are and what they're all about. In some cases, this is conducted through flashbacks, but in Dee's case, a new character to the scene actually brings her past into the present. It was amazing to see her contend with the person she used to be and the life she lived before becoming one of the Rat Queens. There's also a lot more that gets revealed about the cult-ish religion that she used to belong to and still struggles with walking away from. A lot of the stranger elements of her character are explained through this sub-plot which made her much easier to connect with this time around. I also really enjoyed the character that made this all possible. He was a real even-keel kind of character which contrasted quite nicely with the typically hyper or sarcastic personalities of other characters in this world. There's also another new character named Lola who's just a straight-up badass, though sadly, we never get to know much about her.

Violet and Hannah each get some flashbacks to earlier parts of their lives near the end of the volume. It was cool to see earlier versions of these characters and get to bear witness to some of the moments which have led them to where they are now. Hannah's flashbacks were by far the most compelling since they were so devastatingly sad, but they also explained her relationships with two of the characters in the present which was nice.

The one main disappointment came in the form of Sawyer. He was a character that promised to be a pivotal part of this volume after the events of issue five. Instead, he basically walks right into a trap and is either seen chained up naked to a portable ... thing that people get chained to (I guess), or naked with Hannah in both present and flashback sequences. He never actually does anything and I was more than a little confused by why I needed to see so ... much of him. The use of him just felt kind of weak - it's like they needed to get him out of the way so that other characters could get a little more face time.

Such beautiful destruction!
WORLD/SETTING 
Palisade is as fantastic as ever. There isn't really all that much more of it that is shown than what readers got in VOLUME 1, but new little bits of the world do come there and help make it feel a little different. This is largely thanks to the cult-based characters that appear and start either wreaking havoc or trying to restore balance. There is also a far more cataclysmic ending conflict in which pieces of the city are smashed into rubble. This level of destruction is something readers haven't really seen before since most of the battles so far have either been on a smaller scale or occurred outside of the city's walls. It was very exciting to see the city in a far more intense state of peril this time.

Further adding to the world are the brief flashbacks we get of Hannah's and Vi's past. The dwarven city where Violet grew up looked beautiful and regal in a way that other Palisade does not.  The streets of Hannah's youth were starkly dirty and provided a lot of insight into her character, while the mage academy she later attends offers a glimpse into a very different stage of her life. There are again some shots of places a bit outside Palisade's walls which all looked great as well. Overall, this is still just such a stunning fantasy world and I was very glad to see a little bit more of it.

PLOT/TONE 
I think it's largely in this area that this series continues to falter with me a little. I liked that we got a bit more of a narrative pull this time around. There's a clearer threat to Palisade and the Queens and everything kind of revolves around this central plot point. I loved that things were far less scattered, but because of the story's emphasis on building it's characters, there are still a lot of little diversions that pulled me out of the primary story arc. I don't think this is a terrible thing, it's just that I really like getting into a story and it's tough to tell one with so many fantastic characters and not veer off the main path here and there. That said, the final battle was every bit as epic as it needed to be and I felt like it wrapped everything up quite nicely - that is until the cliffhanger on the very last page.

If I had any other issues with this aspect of the work, it would be that it felt like both the writer and the artists were trying SOOO hard to make this feel more edgy. From the language to the flagrant sexuality, it just felt kind of forced and less casually irreverent than the first volume.

ARTWORK
Somehow this series managed to get even more beautiful! Every page is just brimming with painstakingly detailed artwork and I felt myself stopping to admire the view on more than one occasion. It is important to note though that the style actually changes after the halfway mark. It's not
A Look at the style of issues 4 and 5
a dramatic switch, but it's certainly a noticeable one. I'm not really sure if there was any particular reason for the swap, but I enjoyed the second style almost as much as the first.

Where I had the most issues with the visuals was when it came to all the nakedness. This installment focuses a lot on the relationships between characters and while I liked that, I also felt like they went a little too far with some of it. There are subtle and far more elegant ways of depicting intimacy between characters, but there seems to be very little interest in  doing so here. Breasts, butts, and even partially obscured men's genitalia are all seen again and again and again. Now I know subtlety has never been this series' motto, I guess I could have just done without shots of Sawyer's you-know-what. Like, thanks, but no thanks. While I'm on the subject of him I also just don't get why he needed to be naked at all in the scenes where he's captured by an old enemy. Those shots would have been every bit as dramatic if he was wearing some pants, or at least some medieval undies, literally anything really. Fortunately, most of these panels are from the abdomen up save for a couple. This is probably the best example of how unnecessary some of the nudity is, but there are certainly other scenes that characters didn't really need to be exposed in for readers to have gotten the full effect from them.

CONCLUSION 
Better in some ways and a little grating in others, RAT QUEENS VOLUME 2: THE FAR REACHING TENTACLES OF N'RYGOTH is a very worthy successor to the first part of the series. It's too bad that the creators felt the need to push the foul language and nudity to the point where it felt unnatural, but they did manage to tell a much more cohesive story overall this time around which is what counted the most for me. I'm not totally sure where the series will go from here, but I'm very excited to find out!

RAT QUEENS VOLUME 2: THE FAR REACHING TENTACLES OF N'RYGOTH is available in paperback and eBook formats on Amazon.

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