Rat Queens: A Fantasy Adventure Starring Unusual Heroes

Image: Image Comics, Artist: Fiona Staples

Genre: Fantasy

Synopsis: The Rat Queens are a rowdy adventuring band. They take on missions for money, get into bar brawls, and party hard. Also, they curse inventively. As much as they and the other adventurers in the town provide safety to the citizens, their escapades have been getting a little…out of control. And so all of the town’s adventurers are assigned missions as a punishment…which goes horribly wrong, and intersects with several groups of people looking for revenge.

Series: Ongoing, currently at 15 issues.

I’ve Read: The first two volumes. (Sass and Sorcery, The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth)

Verdict: Pretty good.

Preview: Here.

I really like this series, and I’m interested enough to keep reading, though I don’t love it–I see the potential that I might come to love it, but I’m not there yet. To be honest, given the popularity of the series and the awards it has won, I was expecting something different. Here, the setup of the series is pretty classic–a party of rambunctious D&D-style adventurers goes on missions and gets into trouble. The novelty comes from the fact that we aren’t used to these types of characters being the heroes in these kinds of stories (and possibly not used to such profanity from them).

But that energizes an otherwise standard style of storytelling. It adds a new element which is hard to find elsewhere, and invites a wide variety of people to enjoy a popular narrative that for the most part, hasn’t previously included them. The characters are thus the series’ main distinguishing feature, and I’m okay with that.

Hannah, Dee, Violet, and Betty are the Rat Queens–they’re an elven mage, a human cleric, a dwarven fighter, and a halfling thief.  At the end of the day, they’re a team, but each of them also has a past and their own unique relationships with the others around them.

Hannah is the source of most (but not all) of the profanity in the series. With necromancers for parents, she hasn’t exactly had the most normal upbringing, and she’s one of the wildest on a team known for its wildness. Her past friendship and current frenemy status with Tizzie is interesting, and I’m watching for hints of how their relationship got to this point and where’s it’s going from here. Likewise, the development of her relationship with her ex(?), Sawyer, the lawman with a dark past is compelling. Sawyer and Tizzie make for intriguing secondary characters in their own right, making Hannah’s supporting cast the most fleshed-out so far.

Dee is an introvert questioning the beliefs she’s been taught by her family, in the awkward position of trying not to hurt the family she loves with that questioning. I’m especially keeping an eye on her character, because I loved the scene where she avoided talking to anyone at a party by reading a book. She really hasn’t had much of a chance to shine yet, except for a few cool moments that make me think she has a lot of promise. We haven’t seen her interacting with a lot of people aside from the rest of the Queens, but we do meet someone from her past, concerned about where she’s going with her future.

Violet is a determined warrior who breaks with tradition to be who she wants to be (even going to far as to shave her beard). There seems to be a setup for a family conflict here, as she’s going against her father’s wishes. Lots of family conflicts going around Rat Queens, each one different from the others, as part of a larger theme of breaking from the norm if that’s what you need to do for yourself. And it’s interesting to learn how Violet came to the realization that she needed to lead a different life, and how her family members reacted to her decision. 

Betty is cheerful and absentminded, though quite destructive in battle. She’s the thief of the group, she’s inordinately fond of candy, and she mixes the kind of drinks that make people forget who they are. Her supporting cast so far consists of her girlfriend, who might have some friction with the rest of the Queens due to their general roughhousing ways. This appears to have temporarily been set aside, but we’ll see if goes anywhere.

Another supporting character worth mentioning is Braga, an orc in another adventuring party. She got her own issue fleshing out her backstory before her transition (as she’s trans), about her philosophical differences with her family and how they ultimately couldn’t be reconciled, or at least not at that point.

I’m also impressed with the flashback sequences in the second volume. Normally, flashbacks aren’t anything to get excited over, but here, they worked well. When we first meet the Rat Queens, they’re already friends. They’ve been in town for a while and know everyone else there. The flashbacks gave the audience insight into the things that all of the protagonists would already know about each other, and answered questions I had about the characters’ backstories after watching them interact for a while.

So yeah, this a fun fantasy adventure striving to be inclusive. And there really is something that keeps me coming back to the story.