The town of Palisade has a problem. It’s not the trolls and bandits who plague the surrounding country-side, it’s the mercenary groups hanging around the town waiting for jobs. They are bored, and bored mercenaries cause trouble. So the town assigns all the groups various jobs to make the countryside safer, as well as make amends for their carousing ways.
Unfortunately for the mercenaries, the assignments are traps. The Rat Queens—the mercenary group made up of Dee Dee, the human cleric, Hannah, the elven sorceress, Betty, the smidgen rogue, and Violet, the dwarven warrior—survive. A few other mercenaries do as well, but most are killed. The remaining mercenaries reconvene in town to try and figure out who is trying to kill them all and why.
The women of the Rat Queens are real, fully fleshed-out characters. They kick butt and drink too much, they fall in love and still keep their focus on the job at hand, and they are competitive with each other while remaining a solid team. They get to be both stoic and emotional, beautiful and strong. Upchurch’s art reinforces this diversity. The characters encompass many types and races of being, and Upchurch captures their character’s quirks clearly.
It is the details that really make this story stand out: during a battle, to distract the enemy, a cleric sets off a spell making a naked woman appear in the sky (“gets ‘em every time”); at the celebratory after-party, Dee hides behind a book rather than make small-talk; one of the Daves in the mercenary group (the Four Daves) has bluebirds living in his beard.
The story is set in a fantasy realm, but the speech and mannerisms are 21st century America. Wiebe manages to walk that fine line between making fun of some of the tropes of fantasy writing while still being a fantasy novel itself and Upchurch’s art just reinforces this. The aforementioned Orc, Dave, is clearly an orc out of a fantasy realm—pointy ears, bad teeth, and weird nose—but his beard is full of twittering bluebirds, making him more silly than scary. He rarely uses a straightforward view of a scene if he can have a dramatic ceiling shot or tilted angle or sweeping vista. When a troll says admiringly “this b*tch has bite,” her expression is perfectly matched. I’m not sure where Upchuch found a troll model, but he realistically captured its expression.
Weibe develops a full backstory for each character while keeping the plot moving forward. There are enough unanswered questions to leave the reader impatient for the next volume in the series.
Given the amount of blood, foul language, and sexual innuendo in the book, it is definitely an adult graphic novel, although one that would also appeal to older teens.
Rat Queens, vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery
by Kurtis J Wiebe
Art by Roc Upchurch
Image Comics, 2014