In “Rat Queens” #2 by Kurtis Wiebe and Roc Upchurch, Hannah, Dee, Violent and Betty have a narrow escape with a troll and try to figure out who may have set them up.
Despite the speed of information and a lot of back-and-forth dialogue, the overarching plot progression in “Rat Queens” #2 is slow. The opening fight scene consumes nine pages from start to finish, more than a third of the issue. Like Brian Michael Bendis, Wiebe’s storytelling is decompressed, but instead of Bendis’ stretches of dialogue, Wiebe often writes long fight scenes. This gives Upchurch lots of canvas room to go wild with camera angles and hand-to-hand combat moves, but in the end, these prolonged battle scenes weaken suspense, especially in serial format. Collected in trade, long action scenes work better, but this early in the introductory arc of “Rat Queens,” the plotting and suspense end up being too loose. The reader doesn’t receive any new information the mysterious “Shadow of the Order” ninja and only one cryptic hint at who might be targeting the Queens.
More to the point, the nine-page fight doesn’t warrant this kind of attention by itself, however lively or versatile Upchurch’s art is. The giant troll is a nameless disposable grunt opponent. He’s only there so that the girls can show off their chops as a team and as individual fighters. It works, but it’s an obvious, mechanical introduction, styled after Dungeons and Dragons or RPGs, without offering the interactive quality of games.
Upchurch’s art has fluid transitions and is full of cartoonish energy. A gory injury sustained by Hannah and the joking around about sex, drinking and other debauchery don’t create any darkness or grittiness. The dominant notes of “Rat Queens” #2 are comedy and fantasy, cemented by Wiebe’s comradely dialogue and Upchurch’s style.
Wiebe and Upchurch borrow from other existing genres for their character design. They have combined tropes, melding a band of four female friends, as in “Sex and the City” or “The Golden Girls,” with a high fantasy brawling and questing adventure. The world and characters are introduced well and have appealing camaraderie, but as individuals, they lack dimension beyond being female magic-wielding warrior friends that party hard. Similarly, the humor works, but it also comes off as feeling slick or facile at times.
“Rat Queens” #2 is an easy, enjoyable read. This is partly because Wiebe and Upchurch know their stuff, but it’s also because they aren’t taking a lot of risks with the storytelling. The dialogue glides on easily with familiar jokes, and the action and characterization are vivid but derivative, offering comforting fun but no surprises. The predictability isn’t offensive or lazy, but the creative team plays it so safe that they risk being bland. However, the last page of “Rat Queens” #2 changes the atmosphere and direction with its hints of conspiracy or intrigue, so the story may offer stronger plot twists or develop on more original lines as it progresses further.