Book Review – Rat Queens, Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery

So, there’s really no good reason I put off reading this comic for so long. I think I was just turned off by the word “sass” in the title of this first collection. I don’t think there’s any word used to describe women that pisses me off more than “sass” (or any iteration thereof).

I’m glad I finally relented and picked it up, though, because Rat Queens is fucking excellent.

The Rat Queens–Hannah, Dee, Violet, and Betty–are one of several groups of adventurers working out of a town called Palisade. However, we learn early on that not everyone appreciates what the Rat Queens and their fellow mercenaries bring to the town. When someone tries to have all the adventurers killed, hijinks ensue as the Rat Queens try to save the day.

In many ways, this series is a pretty straight forward sword and sorcery adventure of the R-rated persuasion (it’s very full of coarse language, sex, drugs, and tons of extremely bloody violence). However, it’s not the usual sort of testosterone-fueled romp one might expect from this genre. Which is refreshing.

Even better, it’s nothing so simple as just gender-flipping things and writing about a bunch of women who “act like men.” Rat Queens plays with a lot of the genre-standard tropes in really clever and extremely funny ways, and it also develops each of its characters with loving attention to detail and a clear commitment to treating them all like full human beings.

This is especially apparent in the artwork, which is consistently nicely done. The main characters are a group of diverse women with plausible body types wearing adventure-appropriate costumes that reflect their roles and personalities. This in itself is enough to recommend the book to me, but when you toss in a good sprinkling of visual gags and some excellently-drawn action–without any obvious fan service–I consider the artwork a home run.

My only criticism is that I actually could have done with a little more exposition about each woman’s background, and I would love to know a little more about some of the secondary characters, too. Some of this, I’m sure, is just because I’m used to reading novels, which have fewer space limitations than comics have. Mostly, though, I just really love these characters and want to know everything about them.

I guess I’m just going to have to hope that the series runs for a long time.

Rat Queens is exactly the kind of feminist comic I want to read–mostly in that its feminism is all in the execution of the work, with no preachy, ham-handed messages getting in the way of a good story, and no ugly, sexist artwork to get in the way of my enjoying it. It’s an almost perfect comic that I can’t wait to read more of.

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