Rat Queens continues to deliver on all cylinders: sparkling dialogue, rich characters and just the right amount of horror and action for this genre. In issue #7, more plot elements start to fall into place as we learn quite a bit about the forces behind the recent events in Palisade, the dangerous of misapplying dark magic and how much nudity this comic is willing to show (quite a lot, it appears). There is a reason why this comic has developed such a passionate cult following in such a short period of time, and it’s simple, old-fashioned quality, blended with strong female characters and an acid-tinged satirical sensibility. The Queens themselves have to face some serious dark power in this issue, and the revelations of some of the forces that are conspiring against them bring a level of brutal violence to the book that is somewhat shocking, but quite appropriate for the story.
We last left Hannah in the rain, face to “face” with Bernadette, her eyes being eaten by some sort of magical infection. This doesn’t lead to fight between these characters, as one might think, but they are soon joined by another mage, the only other one who “knows how to black hex.” she says. Her and Hannah duke it out (and all of this is very interestingly rendered by Roc Upchurch using angles straight out of the Sergio Leone playbook), but they ultimately wind up talking. It seems that Tizzie, the rival mage, was also targeted by the dark assassins, and she too tracked them back to Bernadette. There is, as Hannah points out, evidently someone else in town who knows black hex, and has been using it. Hannah gathers Bernadette and brings her back to headquarters.
More rainy violence happens later, this time warrior Lola defending herself against a formidable gathering of much larger male fighters. She returns to her quarters to find all of her team killed, in a bloodbath. Take-home message: there’s clearly someone still targeting heroes in the town of Palisade.
Thankfully, other things have also remained unchanged. Betty is high as a kite, and tries to seduce and eat the head of Ginger warrior Violet. And Dee is still dealing with the presence of her husband, who turns out to be a gentle, respectful and wise man. Instead of some conflict, estranged husband and wife sit in the artfully drawn rain and talk about family responsibility, leaving your parents’ religion, and how people change. It’s a great moment for Rat Queens and once again highlights the dept of Kurtis J. Wiebe’s writing. Many lesser genre stories would have made the husband menacing, and had a magically-infused fight scene. But in Rat Queens they go for the character truth first. That’s quite admirable. (Hannah, of course, interrupts this quiet moment with a very Rat Queens line, “Dee! Get your ass in here! Shit’s fucked!” So, no need to fear the book getting all maudlin and serious.)
We then cut to the key “Bond Villain” sequence in which a scary guy in a mask tells us his whole backstory while staring out a window and pacing around a room. The reveal of Sawyer, chained to a board and startlingly nude and tortured. Gerrig, the man in the mask, accuses Sawyer of killing the only beautiful thing in Palisade, his late wife, who Sawyer did indeed kill some time before. And finally all the major plot points come together, as Dee’s husband reveals that Gerrig’s mask is a sacred one from their religion (they worship a giant tentacled God). When a master dies, his power passes to a mask which, when worn, allows the wearer to use the powers. But, as someone once said, with great power comes great responsibility, and sometimes even the necessity for great skill. Gerrig has plenty of vengeful, righteous anger, but not necessarily great skill. It was his mis-application of the borrowed magic that caused Bernadette’s eyes to be destroyed (she will survive, but be blinded), and the issue ends with the revelation that Gerrig has been flirting with even more dangerous power, unleashing an ominous herd of giant tentacles, currently making their way down from the sky onto the rainy rooftops of Palisade. Cthulhu himself dominates the final splash page, as Palisade is seemingly doomed, in the grip of a “big bad”.
This issue covers a lot of ground, gives a fair bit of exposition and doesn’t deal that much with the actual Rat Queens, interestingly. Betty gets one scene, Violet a handful of lines and Dee is more of a conduit for her husband’s exposition, although she does have some nice character moments with him. That’s the kind of balancing act any long-running series has to strike sometimes, and I’m sure we’ll be spending more quality time with the tough wise-cracking Queens soon enough. The real star of this issue is Roc Upchurch’s moody art, keeping the comic sensibility of the previous issue but overlaying everything with a rainy darkness that works wonders to establish mood. Rat Queens, in its art and story, remains one of the real “finds” of Image Comics consistently strong catalogue.