Tag Archives: Women

Review: Rat Queens Vol. 1 – Sass & Sorcery

Hey Ben, did you read anything over vacation you actually liked? As a matter of fact, yes…

Rat Queens Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery

RatQueens

Writer – Kurtis J. Weibe, Artist – Roc Upchurch

One might be tempted to classify Rat Queens as a parody of fantasy adventuring stories, but in reality it’s a character-driven exciting world with some familiar tropes. It isn’t a series that takes itself too seriously, but that serves to elevate the more emotional moments when they happen (more in the second volume than this first outing).

As with most Volume 1’s, Sass & Sorcery introduces us to the eponymous Rat Queens: Hannah (a mage), Dee (a healer), Violet (a female dwarf with a shaved beard, their fighter), and Betty (an over-sexed, violent, tiny elf-like thing called a Smidgen). The Queens are a rabble-rousing bunch who’ve gotten in one bar-fight too many, and have been tasked by the town sheriff to take on a quest, or to get their butts out of town. As it turns out this whole thing is just a setup to get the Queens, and a number of other rowdy adventuring troops, all killed. The Queens and remaining survivors of the other groups must track down who’s trying to kill them, while also fighting off a Goblin horde that threatens to destroy the city.

Honorable mention goes to the Vulcan-like Obsidian Darkness whose quest is to clean the toilets in the Winding Pass barracks. Something about this group’s deadpan delivery and complete acceptance of the dirty task made seeing them all killed kind of sad, but in a funny way.

The comic relies a bit heavily on ultra-violence in this early outing, something that tempers as the series goes along, though this is mostly played to comedic effect. Betty skewers a pair of goblin eyes and offers them to Hannah as fresh ingredients. Hannah gets her arm quite realistically crushed by the aforementioned goblin. An assassin is smashed to giblets by a goblin’s hammer. You get the idea.

The final architect of the Rat Queen’s demise is both someone you’d never expect, and yet that makes a certain kind of sense. The comic does a good job of setting up the next arc, providing closure to the events of this volume, while hinting at bigger and multi-legged threats to come.

The character designs are unique and all say something about the individual women that isn’t revealed up front. The dots under Dees eyes may look cool but they mean something too. And what’s with Hannah’s weird hairdo? What does Violet look like with a beard? For answers to these questions you’ll need to read further. Honorable mention also goes to Orc Dave who has blue birds of healing that live in his beard. It looks adorable.

The jokes are funny, there’s effective use of coarse language and in-universe expressions of surprise. The plot is intriguing while still allowing for many character moments and asides. As a first outing this volume is great fun. And it only gets better from here.

(4 Stars | Only because I want you to think the 5 Stars I’m giving Volume 2 actually mean something)

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How I’m spending my time under the Polar Vortex

Since December I’ve been on kind of a graphic novel kick. Part of this is Amazon and Comixology’s fault, running great end of the year sales on the “DC Essentials” followed by Google’s beginning of the year sale that about doubled my collection of Fables, Runaways and Saga.

Prior to this explosion of graphic novel reading I’d been trying to pick my way through the penultimate volume of The Sandman, The Kindly Ones. The art in that book seems so hastily sketched and primitive (or Picasso’esque jarring) that I’m finding it hard to enjoy it with the same relish as A Season Of Mists.

The last month has been almost exclusively a Brian K. Vaughan month, tearing through Y: The Last Man (which deserves a whole post on its own), the first two volumes of Saga, and Runaways. It’s this last I want to touch on.

For those of you unfamiliar, Runaways is in the Marvel universe (see Avengers, X-Men, Spiderman, etc.) but is set in Los Angeles (most super hero action happens in NYC). The book’s main premise is that a group of teenagers discover their parents are actually a cabal of super villains called The Pride. Their reaction is to freak out, run away, and try to figure out what to do. In the midst of this they discover their own set of super powers, including the fact that one is a mutant, one has a telepathic link to a dinosaur, and one is an alien.

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With me so far?

It’s actually a pretty engaging story, with likable and diverse characters, and doesn’t lean too heavily on knowledge of the Marvel Universe. Vaughan likes to work with his own characters, and that’s evident in this book and all of his other books I’ve read. This book is a little teenage drama-y, but it’s got a great sense of humor and engaging colorful artwork.

At least in volumes 1-3 (issues 1-18).

At the end of the third book the first narrative arc closes and in real life Runaways took a brief hiatus before starting up a second series with a new issue 1. And that’s where the artwork took a turn typical of comics, but I think really unfortunate considering the subject matter. All of the girls were drawn skeletal thin.

In comics women are drawn one of two ways, with giant breasts and revealing clothing, or other-worldly thin. This is a book about teenage girls (and 1 guy), ages 16 to 17, and the characterizations make this a book that should be appealing to that demographic (if not more so). That would seem to me to be an age where we want to be encouraging positive body images, not unrealistic ones. Yes it is a superhero book, with one of the characters being an alien, but otherwise they’re normal teenagers.

One character in particular is treated pretty unfairly in this, Gertrude, the one with the dinosaur. She was drawn a little heavier in the first few issues, and this has a natural affect on the character’s personality and interactions with other people. In the second volume she is still treated in the same way, but is drawn as what for many girls would be considered a normal body type.

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Now this is an old book that is now finished, but still one that people pick up, particularly if they’re trying to read some of the “classics” or at least “notable” comics. And it’s a trend that I suspect has not gotten any better.

An interesting exception to this is my new recent read Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore (who worked on Runaways for its third series). This is not a book I would expect to like. At the center of narrative is a love triangle between a lesbian woman named Katchoo, her best friend Francine who Katchoo is in love with, and David who is enamored of Katchoo. The book is about human relationships, sex, and friendship and it’s so far been surprisingly intriguing (real living characters help). In particular Francine is a unique thing in comics. She’s overweight, and the artist is unafraid to draw a few rolls. But at the same time she is portrayed as beautiful and very sympathetically. Her weight is occasionally a plot point, but never in a cruel way. I don’t know the whole trajectory of this story, and admittedly it would be kind of inappropriate for the Runaways demographic, but I think it’s a much more sympathetic and healthy view of girls, women and beauty.

Any other graphic novels you’ve read that portray women realistically?

** Oh, and I also read some Batman: Hush and the new 52 Batgirl. Hush was amazing though I feel like the ending was abrupt (and definitely a much more male oriented view toward the drawing of women, particularly Poison Ivy and Huntress). Batgirl has been enjoyable, though I’ve found myself putting it down for other books, but now I’m back in.

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Forty Minute Story “Teardrop”

The girl next to me is wearing earrings like the ones I bought for my love.

I suppose she’s a woman, not a girl, but it’s difficult to tell from the gray wool hat she wears indoors even though it’s a mild day. I’m trying not to notice any of her other characteristics since I am a married man after all.

The earings are a simple smooth stone, hers are azure, the same color as my love’s. It’s in the shape of a teardrop, with a plain silver border, though the border on this girl’s earing looks a touch more elaborate. I wonder if she bought them herself or if someone gave them to her, maybe a lover or even a friend. Maybe even her parents, but she seems like someone who wouldn’t wear much that they bought her.

The teardrop bulges more than my love’s earrings, almost as if it’s ready to fall. When she turns her head to the side I can almost see through the stone, like a marble. I can only see one side of her head so I guess I’m assuming she has a matching one on the other side. She may have worn only one for some kind of a fashion statement. I can’t think of what that statement might be other than ‘I lost my earring.’

I don’t know where my love’s other earring is. I remember it, lying beside her on the living room floor. It had popped loose and was lying near her shoulder when she collapsed. It’s been a long time since she fainted, and I was worried. One minute we were arguing and the next she was on the ground, her face blank and unseeing. Her eyes were dry, not even producing a single tear. I remember looking at that earring and thinking it was the tear she couldn’t shed, in those terrible seconds that felt like hours before she regained consciousness.

She smiled at me, her face so warm after being so cold. She could see the worry, the tears I wasn’t shedding, and she wanted to make me feel better. Her own feelings would take hold later, concern and worry and shock, but in that instant I was all she cared about, and she was all I cared about.

Sitting here month’s later I can’t forget that moment. I’ve bought her a couple of pairs of earrings like those since, one black and one green, but I’ve never found that blue one. It might have gotten kicked under the couch when EMT’s came. I might have picked it up and put it somewhere without remembering. Or maybe somehow it wound up with this girl, so they could remind me to not spend all my time alone in coffee shops.

Do you think it’d be weird if I leaned over and asked her for it back?

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