Let the Bards Sing Her Accolades: A Review of Rat Queens Braga Special #1

Transgender representation in visual media is on the rise. Janet Mock and Laverne Cox both had a substantial media presence during 2014: the former debuting her online talk show So POPular in December, and the latter finishing a successful and highly visible run on the Netflix smash Orange is the New Black. Dragon Age: Inquisition featured popular secondary character Cremissius Aclassi, a trans man serving as a mercenary in the Bull’s Chargers, and offered players the option of adding apparently-gender-incongruous secondary sex characteristics to their in-game avatar. But I’ll discuss the queer aspects of the Dragon Age series in a later article; this one is about an orc woman who is formerly the heir-apparent of her tribe in Rat Queens Braga Special #1.

An impressive axe-wielding orc goddess sitting on a throne of skulls.

Your last sight before the afterlife. Art © 2014 Tess Fowler

Braga, aka “The Bastard,” is a member of the Peaches, one of the four mercenary squads from  Rat Queens #1 to serve as monster chow, demonstrating the dangerous nature of the Rat Queens’ quest. Braga is one of the non-Queens to survive her group’s ambush, and has become a recurring character in the Rat Queens series, along with the Peaches’ leader, Tizzie.

After a brief introduction, which involves Braga discussing her situation with an unseen guest the day after the events of Rat Queens #5 (which I plan to review in late March), we visit a battle between two orcish armies. Braga, who at this time is known as Broog, marshals her soldiers next to her comrade, Kiruk, before the battle. Her army wins handily in a two-page spread, and then Broog celebrates in a tavern—the traditional post-combat celebration location of the series and of many role-playing games and fantasy books from which Wiebe gains inspiration.

Surprisingly and gratifyingly, Broog’s conflict with her orcish society is not because of her transness, but rather because of her unorthodox style of conflict resolution. She prefers to conduct her group’s wars with the surrounding tribes not by a cycle of slaving and humiliations, but via a climactic battle that will truly settle the the superiority of her tribe versus others. Because of her desire to end endless war, she is considered weaker by her father and younger brother—the latter of whom takes a more violent approach to ending their conflict.

Broog, throwing away the things that made her society.

Broog, throwing away the things that made her society. ©2015 T. Fowler

Wiebe’s writing and Fowler’s art make this a memorable issue, and so does the presentation of Braga herself. This is the first, and hopefully not the last, issue of the series with a woman in one of the top two slots of the creative team.

Origin stories with trans woman characters tend to be socially fraught, because they often show trans women in an ungendered light. In this case, it works out, because the story of Braga’s exile from her people doesn’t center her transness as her reason for leaving. What we get is a more complete and nuanced view of who she is and how she came to be where she is in her life: the tale of the exiled prince(ss). Braga’s backstory puts her in familiar mythic territory, and grounds her in the same rich fantasy milieu as her castmates.

Rat Queens Special: Braga #1 is available on Comixology and Amazon, and on the shelves at your friendly local comic shop.

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