At first mention of Dungeons & Dragons, the stereotypical image conjured is a bunch of acne speckled nerds, sitting around a table in their parent’s basement eating Doritos, drinking vast amounts of Mountain Dew while wearing capes made from old Transformers bed sheets, rolling oddly shaped dice and calling each other odd names like Hogarth the Horrible or Taurnil Telemnar – mine from a Elfish name generator. Really. Or perhaps something more like in the series finale of Freaks & Geeks. Despite never having played it myself (I know, -15 against my geek cred), we all know that this is more than likely not the case. I suspect the tabletop sessions are more akin to the sass and sorcery found in Kurtis Wiebe and Roc Upchurch’s Rat Queens; a fantasy adventure comic for those who enjoy a little crass with their questing.
Things are not so quiet anymore in the generic adventuring hub of Palisade. The questing clans are rich, young and full of… vigour. This leads to drunken bar brawls and general tomfoolery which has the citizens of Palisade, and particualarly the Mayor, a tad fed-up. With one great swoop, the city guard lock all of the adventuring groups up in the dungeons; The Peaches (The Populars), The Brother Ponies (The Jocks), The Obsidian Darkness (The Goths), The Four Daves (The umm Daves?) and of course, the ringleaders of rabble rousing, The Rat Queens. The price for their freedom is that each clan must take on a quest at the behest of The Mayor. As each group sets out to earn their freedom – and whatever gold they can find – they discover that they have been set up by an unknown force to eliminate them. Who is the big bad threatening the clans? When the Rat Queens find out, they are going to stick sharp object into it multiple times.
Wiebe (of Peter Panzerfaust fame) takes everything you think you know about fantasy tales and adds a huge dose of creative swearing, Tarantino style violence. and gore with non-stop giggles, to craft Rat Queens into a book which you wish was all-ages so that everyone can enjoy it – but secretly love the fact that this is strictly for mature readers. Wiebe wraps our first adventure with the Queens in a nice little mystery, which isn’t too deep and involved, making the first five issues a rather welcoming introduction. Not only do you get an entertaining story with each chapter, but Wiebe takes the time to build each of the main characters; giving us a glimpse into what drives them, what makes them tick. It’s enough early on that you can genuinely start to care about the characters, and with the Rat Queens being as diverse as The Beatles, you and you friends can each have a favourite. Taking the standard Tabletop RPG character sets and adding a modern, hilariously absurd spin on it, we get quiet atheist human cleric Dee, shaven hipster dwarf fighter Violet, happy-go-lucky hippy smidgen thief Betty and the leader of the Queens, poor-rich girl elven mage with a Rockabilly edge, Hannah. The supporting cast is great too, making this new world we find ourselves in even richer, giving the Rat Queens lots of fodder for both their physical and verbal assaults. This book is laugh-out-loud funny – not just LOL, people. You can tell Wiebe’s favourite is Betty as he tends to give her all the best lines, though perhaps in the future he will spread that around a bit more. He has also laid the groundwork for some great running gags and though I am unsure how it could be possible, I honestly believe it will only get better from here.
Where did John “Roc” Upchurch even come from?! His previous comic credits include his involvement on Image Comics’ Vescell with writer Enrique Carrion, which sadly flew under my radar. However he came to join forces with Wiebe on Rat Queens and this is certainly a case of having the right artist on the right book. His art style is highly detailed in all the right places, while still maintaining a slightly, fun, cartoonish element, making Wiebe’s story seem like watching a great Saturday morning cartoon while high on candy. – Betty would approve. The character designs are inspired. With fantasy/adventure books giving an artist a certain free-reign when it comes to the visual world building, Upchurch doesn’t overdo it. He makes the background characters distinct, and adds elements that, if you catch them, certainly make you smile. He has a flair for action sequences, which obviously helps on an adventure book though is equally great at the standing around and talking moments. Even when he gets a little sketchy it works so well, unlike with other artists when it just comes across of either being well behind deadline, or lazy. Not only does Upchurch pencil and ink the book, he also colours it. His palette is soft, which adds to the fantasy element of the series, while at the same time making his inks pop into a highly enjoyable visual experience. If this is the book Upchurch makes his name on, it is well deserved.
I tend to like putting a spotlight on some of the forgotten creators when it comes to comics, like letterer Ed Brisson. His fonts, from elfish incantations to the roar of a troll, add so much more to the story and meld seamlessly with Upchurch’s art. Lettering can be overlooked in most books, but it’s the small contributions we may miss that really bring a little something extra to a series. While admiring his lettering skills, I implore you to check out his nifty pre-apocalyptic series he writes called Sheltered with artist Johnnie Christmas, also from Image Comics. The first issue is free digitally. FREE!
Rat Queens is by far one of the top adventure books on the shelves today, right up there with Jim Zub and Co.’s Skullkickers; with the possibility of a crossover between the two almost being too good to pass up! Wiebe is the Dungeon Master you’ve always wanted, yet only realized it right now. He could travel the lands, going from town to town with the villagers rejoicing, running your game night before moving on to the next, and leaving everyone a better person than when he entered their lives. Or, you could just pick up Rat Queens, Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery (collecting issues #1-5 with a cover by Fiona Staples) available at all fine comic shops on March 26th and then continue the quest with issue #6 on May 7th. It would save Wiebe the travel time – he has a full time job, people.
Hit me up on Twitter @Thisismytruth and let me know if you have an opening in your game night. I’ll bring the wine and my questing costume; I’m a chaotic-good halfling mage and hope to someday find out what that is exactly.