Monday, May 30, 2016

REVIEW: RAT QUEENS VOLUME 3: DEMONS

INTRODUCTION 
If you've read my reviews of RAT QUEENS VOLUME 1: SASS AND SORCERY and RAT QUEENS VOLUME 2: THE FAR REACHING TENTACLES OF N'RYGOTH, then you know that I'm a big fan of this series. The story is charmingly irreverent, the characters are an embodiment of everything feminism should be, and the art is positively stunning. I've never felt that it was a perfect comic series, but it's definitely one that I get a lot of entertainment out of and didn't think I could get enough of. That was, until I finally picked up RAT QUEENS VOLUME 3: DEMONS, the third collection which I've been highly anticipating. For some reason, the series has taken a rather troubling turn and I'm no longer sure if I am as excited about the series as I once was. 

HOW I RATED IT 
3/5 I was highly tempted to rate this volume at a two based on how much disappointment it caused me, but after some contemplation, I've settled on a three. Effectively, I feel as though the series has fallen into a depressingly mediocre state and while it's not awful, this is certainly not the series that I have come to know and love. 

CHARACTERS
Tonally,  I'd say most of the characters are about the same. The main difference is that they are not represented as evenly as they have been in the past. Hannah gets the spotlight here, which is fine since she's a great character, but given that I also love the other Queens, I wanted a bit more of them. Dee's becoming the new priestess of N'rygoth is certainly addressed, but nothing of enormous consequence happens in regards to this rather life changing shift. Violet is pretty much shafted throughout the entire volume and just serves as comic relief. She's also sporting her beard for some reason which feels off given how much drama surrounded the flashback in VOLUME 2 where she first cuts it off. There are finally some breadcrumbs dropped which hint at Betty's past. She doesn't get a nice flashback or anything, but her past does come to find her in the present and some things about her are explained which have been largely ignored in the past two volumes. It was nice to see her developed a little more, but ultimately it wasn't as much as I really wanted. 

There's trouble in paradise

As I said before, this is really Hannah's story. The Queens visit the school that she attended to find her father and along the way she has to confront various figures from her past. It's tough to really say too much about all of this without spoiling things, but I will mention that we see a far darker Hannah than before. While some things were definitely hinted at previously, I got blindsided by others mostly because they didn't really seem to fit in with how her character has been up until now. In the end, I guess I just wasn't happy with where she ended up by the time I turned the final pages. 

Betty's fundamental truth on life

The real disappointment for me came from how a lot of the minor characters don't show up at all. I know that it's tough to include them all since this story doesn't take place in Pallisade, but I missed characters like Sawyer, Lola, and The Daves. The writer did a fair job of at least mentioning a couple of them and even bringing others to the school in person. I simply wanted more of them especially since the newly introduced characters were mostly forgettable. 

WORLD/SETTING 
If you haven't guessed it by now, I miss Pallisade. The mage school in which much of the story takes place is fine enough, but it lacks the living and breathing quality that Pallisade has. Part of this may just have to do with the visuals, but a lot of it is that I've come to know the citizens of that city so well that moving to a new one feels kind of sad. For what it's worth, readers do get to see a fair amount of the school and the city which surrounds it. There's a bustling market, a hazy tavern, the school itself, and a lavish home, along with other, more mystical locations. There's definitely enough variety here and it was nice to see a snowy sort of landscape, it's just that I didn't feel particularly attached to any of it. I also never felt like any part of this place was ever in peril, but that largely has to do with the narrative.

PLOT/TONE 
Easily the second most disappointing element of the work. The writer hasn't changed, but it seems as
Taking off on a highly questionable direction
though his direction for the series has. Whereas the second volume was obnoxiously adult, this one is so hopelessly campy. It's one cheesy joke after another and the dirtier dialogue didn't really fit with the imagery accompanying it. The story also just isn't all that exciting. It feels as though the plot is floundering a little to move forward from the cataclysmic events of the previous installment and although it tries to tell a more personal story, it fails to even make that feel meaningful or at least intense. The only real suspense I was kept in was in wondering when the story would actually pick up and go somewhere which it never seems to do. Given the smaller scope, I expected there to be a little more focus and perhaps a bit more haste, but there just isn't. We meander through Hannah's past without too much indication as to what any of it has to do with her present situation and then watch her undergo a transformation that felt inconsistent with who I understand her to be. Sadly, this isn't where her inconsistencies end either. In her flashback from the second volume, we witness the death of her mother and it is quite clear that Hannah is in her preteens. But when that same moment is revisited here, those visuals are ignored and Hannah suddenly becomes a toddler for when those events took place. I don't know why they thought they could just redo this part of the story and not think people would notice, but that's what they wanted to go with I guess.



I know I just bashed basically every element of the plot, but  that's mostly my disappointment talking. From a purely objective standpoint, the story is average in every way, my bitterness comes only from the fact that it's such a huge step down from what it was before. I also wasn't pleased with the bonus issue featuring Braga. It just made no sense. I get that the writer tries to be inclusive and all that, but given that this is a medieval-ish world, I don't understand how this character used to be a male. The issue does nothing to explain this jump either, it just flashes back and forth to Braga in the past vs. Braga in the present. It's also implied that she's been lying to the human Dave about her past since he clearly thinks she's always been a female - which seems wrong to me. Ultimately it was just extremely confusing, it added nothing to the main storyline, and I was already miffed at the rest of the volume so I probably came into this with an already negative mood which it did nothing to abate. 
A shot from Braga's mostly useless volume

ART
Possibly the most horrendous change in the entire volume, the art has taken a HUGE dip in quality.
Now, that's a very harsh comment and I'm NOT at all saying that the new artist doesn't have talent, it's just that it is so much more flat and cartoony than it was before. I miss the expert lifework, the brilliant light rendering, and the highly articulated poses. The new style also just doesn't fit with the overall tone of the narrative. I could see this working in a more childish, fun, happy sort of adventure, but it is absolutely not a worthy replacement for the way the series has been illustrated so far. I guess I don't understand why they decided to change it at all. The art has always been one of my favorite parts of the series and I missed it A LOT when reading through this volume. I did like that the queens get some new looks, but I just don't like their less detailed makeovers. I also miss the dramatic action shots of the previous installments. There's some posturing here, but no actual fighting to speak of.

CONCLUSION 
I'm sad to say that this might be the end of the line for me when it comes to the Queens. I enjoyed my first two adventures with them, but am not pleased at all with the new narrative and artistic direction that the series has taken. I'll certainly check out VOLUME 4 when it comes out, but if it looks anything like this one, then I won't be purchasing it. I'd like nothing more than for this to just be an awkward interlude in the series and hope to see it returned to it's former glory, but am going to be quite skeptical of any and all future installments. 

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