Rat Queens (Vol 1): Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch4
Image Comics, 2015
128 pages, paperback
*Borrowed from the library
Welcome back to my naive adventures into the graphic form, sponsored by your recommendations and the holdings of York libraries. This installment sees my English prudery and tolerance for gory violence tested once again; who knew that I was so easily shocked and embarrassed? One thing I'm learning fast is that reading about something in bare prose is a lot lot different from looking at technicolour pictures in comic form. The former I'm attuned to. My imagination fades the mental pictures in or out as required for my equilibrium and I go along my merry way. The latter is a bombardment of whether-you-like-it-or-not. It's challenging and disconcerting, but I like it. I especially liked Rat Queens (in which opinion I am not alone), which is an unashamed orgy of delinquency, blood, guts and beer. Committed by women, spilled by women, drunk by women. (And some men, mostly called Dave.)
Betty, Dee, Hannah and Violet are the Rat Queens, a multi-species band of mercenaries who have been tearing up the town of Palisade, getting in trouble with the law and having all kinds of a good time. They have no intention whatsoever of being good girls. You open this volume to a full page of Hannah, one eye swollen shut, nose bloody, arm bandaged and a satisfied smile on her face. It's shocking and gutsy, because beat-up women are almost always victims. Unlike their male counterparts, they almost never carry their injuries as a badge of honour. Not only that but Hannah's broken face is ugly, distorted; and so although she's also provocatively dressed in a short skirt and thigh high boots with carefully styled hair you just know that she doesn't give a shit what you or any one else thinks of her.
Of course not everyone will stand for this kind of behaviour and the Rat Queens find themselves the target of a very expensive hit man. He's also targeting other mercenary gangs - Peaches, the Four Daves, the Brother Ponies and the goth Obsidian Darkness - and it isn't clear whose behind it. Is it the Mayor of Palisade, the merchant's guild or someone with a personal grudge? While fighting off an assassin the Rat Queens accidentally on-purpose kill a troll - in a scene worthy of Peter Jackson's most over the top LotR treatment - adding a whole army of vengeful relatives to the long list of people they have pissed off.
Amidst all this action we have plenty of opportunity to get to know Betty, Dee, Hannah and Violet. The trust and loyalty of their friendship is up-front from the beginning, underpinned by their witty quickfire banter and willingness to stab anyone that threatens them. Betty is the baby of the crew, able to get away with anything, sweet and irresistible as a button until you cross her. She's in love with a woman who has left the mercenary life behind and finds her loyalty torn. Hannah is the leader of the pack, game for anything and has a romantic past with the local Captain of the guard (who has a past of his own), while Dee is the daughter of cultists who worship a flying squid and, when not killing things rather effectively, is painfully shy. Violet is a dwarf on the run from the traditions of her upbringing - she's even shaved off her beard - and isn't going to let anyone tell her what to do.
The comic is unapologetic about diversity, about body positivity and about sex, but doesn't make a big deal of it. It just gets on with letting women kick ass, make mistakes and save each others lives. What I liked most was the way it never coddles or mystifies the female body. It opens with that provocation of Hannah, and then continues to show women's bodies doing stuff without fetishising them. There is a fantastically startling moment when Braga, a member of Peaches and a mountain of a woman is shot in the breast with an arrow. If women's bodies are shielded, breasts are usually treated with particular care and protection. Braga just screams "You put an arrow in my favourite boob, you fuckwit" and chops the perpetrator in half.
I really can't wait for Volume 2.