The term high fantasy evokes thoughts of Tolkien-esque adventures; serious and lofty magical worlds where good and evil clash, and a hero must rise above adversity to take their rightful place among legends. Rat Queens, on the other hand, features a house party in which magic mushrooms are consumed, one night stands are had, and everyone takes a hit of a magically infused hookah. In short, it’s pretty amazing.
Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe and illustrated by Roc Upchurch, the first volume (containing issues 1-5) tells the tale of the Rat Queens, an all female band of mercs prone to bar fights, destruction of property, and wanton violence with style. The team consists of Elven Mage Hannah, Dwarven Warrior Violet, Human Healer Dee, and Smidgen Rogue Betty. After a particularly nasty fight with some fellow mercenary bands, the Queens are tasked with cleaning out a goblin den as community service, but instead find an assassin waiting in ambush. It’s then up to the Queens to figure out who’s put a bounty on there head, and why.
So first off, the artwork is fantastic. Panels are dynamic and often bleed out of their borders, and man, Upchurch can convey expression like nobody’s business. There’s an entire page and a half of panels with zero lines of dialogue, and not only can you tell exactly what the character is thinking, but there’s a joke told only in facial expressions. There’s none of that “keep the ladies pretty” business going on here, which often limits how much emotion can be conveyed, and it’s incredibly refreshing to see.
Of course the writing is also fantastic, a modern and irreverent take on the high fantasy genre filled with wry humor and attitude. I can’t recall a single boring or flat character in the mix, especially among the main four. Everyone has their quirks, be it a streak of social anxiety or an affinity for drugs and candy. Everyone is either kickass or getting their ass kicked… or both depending on the frame, to action packed, hilarious result. This first volume absolutely hooked me, and by the time I reached the end I just had to go out and find volumes 2 and 3.
It’s been out for a little while now but if you somehow haven’t gotten around to checking it out, I can’t recommend it more.