“Gold, Guts and Grog” Part 1
Publisher: Image Comics/Shadowline
Writer: Kurtis J. Wiebe
Artist/Cover: Roc Upchurch
Review by Eric Owens
The Rat Queens aren’t your traditional band of adventurers. Most obviously, the group is all-female. Beyond this, Wiebe plays around with the typical tropes for the various races and classes that inhabit fantasy quests. Dee is an atheist, which calls into question what powers she has as a cleric and if they’re of divine origin. Betty might be a hippie Smidgen (the comic’s version of Halflings), but that doesn’t stop her from beign a thief or from repeatedly stabbing enemies in the back. Violet, the Dwarven fighter, is described as a hipster, but so far this appears limited to wearing a scarf with her armor. It’s probably for the best if her hipsterism continues to be underplayed. Leading the Rat Queens pack is Hannah, an Elvish mage with rockabilly style, a foul mouth, and plenty of attitude. For a mage, she’s pretty hands-on.
This offbeat approach extends to the rest of story. Instead of being heroes, the various gangs of adventurers that roam the town of Palisade have outlived their usefulness. They’ve been given their quests as get-out-of-dungeon assignments with failure resulting in their permanent banishment (and a punch to the face on the way out). The Rat Queens get tasked with clearing out some goblins. While it won’t give them much loot like the rival Peaches stand to acquire, at least they didn’t get stuck with cleaning latrines. Although the other groups only get a panel or two each, it’s enough to raise a few questions. For instance, what is the history between the Rat Queens and the Peaches? Why are there bluebirds in the beard of one of the Daves from Four Daves? And just what is the deal with the Brother Ponies?
For the most part, the story sticks to being silly and quirky. Violet makes terrible battle cries. Betty packs traveling food that’s as far from lembas and cram as you can get. Hannah has an unpleasant conversation with her mother on what could be described as an iRuneStone. That’s why it’s a bit shocking when things get bloody and violent. The first few pages don’t prepare you for what happens to the unfortunate members of the Obsidian Darkness. The Rat Queens prove themselves in their own battle (with a giant amount of help), but not before their attacker makes it clear that their not out of the woods just yet. It’s this particular blend of comedy and action that makes the story interesting.
On the art side of things, Upchurch draws wonderful smirks and winces. Really all of the art is great, but it’s the way the characters react and carry themselves that gets so much across in something like the different ways they each sit on a log. The short back-up story looks especially good, due largely to the different coloring and shading for the dark room of the damed that Hannah finds herself in. The tradeoff is the loss of the colorful palette that dominates the rest of the issue. The only major quibble is the disappearing and reappearing designs on Violet’s armor. There’s no doubt the art will consistently be at the high level it mostly reaches here after another issue or two.
Upchurch’s character designs are certainly pretty, but they don’t come off as exploitative. They eschew the skimpy outfits that plague female characters in fantasy settings. Heck, Violet is fully covered from the neck down and wears armor that wouldn’t leave her one wrong step away from a shattered sternum. That said, Dee is showing some butt and Hannah’s rockabilly duds might raise a few eyebrows, but it’s in line with the norms for that style.
Overall, this comic was a lot of fun. The Rat Queens transcend their unorthodox character sheets to become a group of heroines set to tackle matters of faith, love, parental relations, and, presumably, being way into bards before anyone else has ever heard of them.
Eric is a contributing writer for Drunk On Comics. You can follow him on Twitter at @EricDOwens