In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been ignoring Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch’s “Rat Queens” for a very shallow reason: I really hate rats. I hate them enough that I kept rejecting “Rat Queens” outright based on title alone, but you can only hear about how good a book is for so long before forcing yourself to read it and find out what all the fuss is about: this book is balls-to-the-wall fun.
Jumping directly into a fifth issue can be a mistake, but Wiebe and Upchurch have done such a tight job with the book and characters that it wasn’t much of a disadvantage. Certainly I look forward to going back and reading the first four issues, and I’m sure that will flesh out story and character nicely, but the characters are so real on the page, that I liked and understood them almost instantly. I didn’t need to know the intimate details of the battle that this issue picks up in mid-fight, because the connection to the characters was all that mattered. All the particulars were less relevant than seeing how well “Rat Queens” is drawn, the sharp the sense of humor, and its consistency with character and voice.
Wiebe has done an exceptional job of making each of his ladies’ personalities incredibly strong, enough that I was immediately able to get a sense of them. Though they read as fiercely independent, another aspect that came across immediately was the fierceness of their affection for one another — that feeling of deep friendship was almost palpable on the page. Each lady (supposedly a dwarf, hobbit, elf and human) feel three dimensional in the best of ways, including their flaws. Beyond character, Wiebe also does a ton of world building, as he closes up a major battle that also involves a lot of interesting supporting characters. As our heroes party post-victory, Wiebe effortlessly sets up his next arc.
Upchurch’s art is full of boundless energy. He revels in the gorgeous character designs, giving each lady her own physical persona from clothes and hair to body language and facial expressions. It’s a wonderful synergy to have both writer and artist paying so much attention to building character — and to feel their enthusiasm for it. Upchurch’s acting is very good; hitting both the emotional and humorous beats with ease. I’m not always a fan of wild panel shapes and layouts, but I see what he’s going for — namely panels that “feel” like they have movement and energy on the page for his more action-based stuff, and he’s not unsuccessful in that endeavor. Still, I think his strongest stuff is when he keeps the layouts simpler and lets his very strong drawing do the heavy lifting.
This issue brings the brutal and incredibly bloody end of a battle for about half of the book and Upchurch delivers and then some — never shying away from the brutality but approaching it in a way that is perfectly fitting for the book’s tone. The rest is mostly a party, with a couple quiet and somber pages, that were some of my favorite for their strong acting. (Though there is a magnificent double page spread of Hannah absolutely killing it on the battlefield — and frankly, the two pages preceding it and the three following it are epic as well.) Upchurch truly shines in a quiet post battle scene that shows him equally capable of subtle and nuanced character moments that don’t include bashing out a giant troll’s eye with her own club.
It was a mistake not to be reading Wiebe and Upchurch’s “Rat Queens” from go, a mistake I have now corrected, and you should too. “Rat Queens” is joyously violent and violently joyous. It’s awesome, and I’m in, terrible name be damned.