"Rat Queens" is back after a four-month break, with a new artist and a new arc that reaffirm just how fun this series can be. Tess Fowler and Tamra Bonvillain's artwork renews the brightness and rambunctiousness of this book, and Wiebe's sureness with his characters' voices is as evident as ever. It's a pleasure to have it back. However, issue #11 drops the reader right into the middle the Queens' new adventure, and it isn't an entirely successful strategy. "Rat Queens" #11 is an incredibly welcome, if not incredibly well-executed, return.
Issue #10 ended with a mysterious channel from Hannah's father, while issue #11 opens on an unexplained argument at Mage University before cutting to the Queens' escape from some goblins. As a strategy, opening in medias res allows Wiebe to move the plot to the university much more quickly, but the hints and suggestions in the script aren't clear enough to make the first few pages compelling rather than confusing. Wiebe doesn't tip an authorial hat to the fact that he's dropping the reader in the thick of things, as many writers do when using this structure; instead, the first two scenes are written as if they're natural continuations. In addition, though in an ideal world the publishing schedule wouldn't affect my review, Wiebe's opening is even more confusing after the hiatus. I actually went to the Image website to double-check that I hadn't missed an issue between #10 and this one. While I appreciate the thinking beside this less-than-straightforward structure, the execution needed some tinkering.
Still, Wiebe knows these characters so well, and it's a joy to sink back into the Queens' team dynamic. Their voices are distinct, funny and full of profanity. Even hyper Betty, the most cartoonishly characterized, reveals layers and surprises me. Often, backstory can feel like an artificial attempt to augment an otherwise unknown character, but Wiebe provides such a strong sense of the Queens' personalities that their histories read like welcome new scenes.
Tess Fowler and Tamra Bonvillain create a bright, colorful universe for this issue. Just as Stjepan Sejic's sketchy lines gave the Cthulu-tinged apocalypse its creepiness, Fowler's clear, detailed linework makes the goblin-thwarting antics all the more enjoyable and lively. Her rousing figures have momentum and heft, and the detailed inking on everything from armor to tavern doors really solidifies and reinforces the high-fantasy setting.
Bonvillain's colors are also bright and unapologetically shinier. There's a happiness to this palette that's perfect for drinking scenes, candy-powered prison breaks and conversations ending in "Night, dickshaft." Much of the fun in a fantasy series is around world building, and Bonvillain's coloring really embraces the freedom of a made-up world. (I also have to add: rarely have I seen a beard as erotically, luxuriously colored as Violet's.)
Altogether, I'm delighted to have "Rat Queens" back in issue #11. Despite a wobbly introduction, the new arc promises all that I've come to love about the series: camaraderie, magic, mayhem and foul-mouthed fun. I can't wait for September's issue.