Michael and I had been reading Rat Queens in TPB until now. This time, up-to-date with the narrative and back into buying single issues, Rat Queens is now on our pull list. Because, honestly, its one of the most fun and interesting comics out there, like if Jem and the Holograms is a little too slight for you but Bitch Planet’s too heavy. Get thee some Rat Queens.
For those of you oblivious to the conceit, Rat Queens follows the hack and slash exploits of a four-woman D&D-style adventuring party. There’s a dwarven fighter, a halfling rogue, a human cleric, and an elven mage. And if you haven’t caught up with issue #11, I suggest checking out our earlier reviews on Volumes 1 and 2 and coming back.
First issues, whether of as series or merely a new arc, need to juggle a handful of requirements to keep readers coming back. First, the issue needs to grab a readers attention, often by establishing a new conflict in medias res. Here we see an elf named Gerard in front of a hooded council. We understand that they are opposed, the council and this man, each having an opinion on what is best for the arcane university. Gerard’s daughter (Hannah we later figure out!) apparently brought devastation on the university, and this is part of the recovery effort. Exposition aside, the issue kicks the action in the pants, with each side making an attack. The council tries to arrest Gerard while he pulls a wand from his sleeve and portals in a mob of students. An arcane battle breaks out full of the colors of the magical elements.
Next, re-establish the characters. The issue jumps to a goblin settlement on a snowy mountain. Our Rat Queens are caged within, and Smidgeon (halfling) thief Betty is commenting on the quality prep work the goblin chef is doing in anticipation of cooking them. In the few panels that follow, the characters get brought back to focus for us. Betty especially gets shown to be the peppy rogue that she is, brilliantly hiding her poison amongst her candy (and drugs?) As these four thwart their captors, their relationship and commitment to each other gets re-established. The end of the issue has them verbalizing their support for Hannah’s quest to find out what happened to her dad, bringing a circular closure to the issue.
Third, build on to our understanding of the characters. The main focus for this issue is Hannah. We find out more about her time at arcane university, get a glimpse of her relationships to other students, and meet her dad. Secondary focus goes to Betty who gets to be the hero of the goblin escape and also gets ambushed in the surprise cliff-hanger. The assassin, another Smidgeon, calls her Petunia, last of the Five Monkeys. As a cliff-hanger, its meant to leave us with anxiety and questions. It succeeds.
This leads directly into the final requirement–get the reader to buy the next issue. Will I want to know more about the arcane university Hannah’s dad led a rebellion in? Absolutely. Do I want to know how Betty dispatches her assassin and who the Five Monkeys are? Totally.
This issue, besides starting a new narrative arch, introduces a new artist, Tess Fowler. Fowler is the third artist on Rat Queens, and each change has required an adjustment period for me. Fowler’s version of the characters doesn’t make any drastic changes, but there’s something slightly less edgy about their rendering. I found this especially true with Hannah, who appears softer and more traditionally beautiful. Previously she’d been more angular and awkward in her height. However, there are panels I just adore that show Fowler’s got the right idea. After the Queens get to the tavern to celebrate their escape, Violet talks briefly about Dave, her orc beau. A bluebird appears in her beard, a direct reference to Orc Dave’s frequently birded appearance. Speaking of Violet’s beard, it’s a nice touch to show the time the women have been away by the unkemptness of Violet’s beard.