Rat Queens, the comic book written by Kurtis Wiebe (Peter Panzerfaust) and initially drawn by Roc Unchurch, is about women, sex, violence, drugs, and way, way too much candy. It’s also about Dungeons & Dragons and nerd culture; its setting is half parody, half love letter, from Lovecraftian death gods to a Bilbo Baggins homage.
The comic opens in a town-hall meeting discussing the dire threat to the city of Palisade. The threat is the violent competition between Palisade’s five adventuring guilds: the Obsidian Darkness, a squad of goth Drizzt clones; the Brother Ponies, a quartet of muscle-bound bronies; the Four Daves, of self-explanatory naming; the Peaches, a group of pastel-garbed mercenaries led by elf-captain Tizzie, about whom much will be written in my next Rat Queens review…
… and the four violent, foul-mouthed, hard-drinking, hallucinogen-loving Rat Queens themselves. They are Hannah, an elf mage with a dark past and rockabilly hair; Violet Blackforge, a hipster dwarf fighter who drinks wine and shaves her beard; Betty, a hippie smidgen (i.e. hobbit) thief who comes across as a pint-sized hybrid of Walter White and Pinkie Pie; and Dee (short for Delilah), an ex-cult-member now-atheist cleric who believes she now powers her own divine magicks.
Issue #1’s plot is familiar to any gamer whose GM has tired of antisocial antics. The Rat Queens are rounded up and imprisoned with the town’s other ne’er-do-well guilds. Each group must complete a difficult quest as community service, or be exiled from Palisade.
Other than a brief-and-fatal detour following another guild to its demise, we’re in Rat Queens territory for the rest of the issue. The comic proceeds with Betty’s discovery of a pair of random boots, and explaining what happens next would be like explaining a roller derby match before you see it live: pointless and spoiler-filled.
The girls’ banter is largely RPG-style characterization and establishes their voices well. Each woman is snarky in her own way, and the dialogue is a strong point for Wiebe. A lot of comic writers, sadly, get one voice for their characters and it’s less “This is how this character sounds” than “this is how Chris Claremont writes a woman.” Wiebe’s writing avoids this: while all of the Queens share some basic characteristics – boozing, casual sex, casual drug use and profanity – each speaks with a distinct voice. As this is the first issue, the characters are introduced in broad strokes and according to their temperaments: Betty is sanguine, Violet choleric, Hannah phlegmatic and Dee melancholic. They become more nuanced in later issues.
Roc Upchurch’s (Drumhellar) artwork through issue #8 is sketchy yet compelling, even including odd choices like the girls’ red noses. I would like more overall detail in his work to savor – though there are lush bits of design work, like Hannah’s tattoos, that are a wonder to behold. My wishes for more design-porn were granted when Stjepan Sejic (Witchblade, Sunstone) took over art in issue #9.
The Pathfinder comic is the aspirational form of an RPG fictional adaptation. Rat Queens is RPGs as we often play them: full of sly, often-anachronistic humor; shameless clowning, sometimes disguised as sly humor; random, unnecessary violence; and casual disregard for the consequences of the player-characters’ actions. I had more fun reading Rat Queens than any other comic book I’ve read in the last year-and-a-half.