The latest issue of Rat Queens isn’t the logical next story in the series (that’s coming later in issue #9), but rather a diversion to explore one particular character, Braga the Orc. Part of the reason for this is no doubt the change in artists. Roc Upchurch, for reasons that admittedly have nothing to do with his artistic talents, is no longer the regular Rat Queens artist. His position will be filled by artist Stjepan Sejic, and from the preview art I’ve seen, he’s a more than adequate replacement. This issue, “Special: Braga #1” is drawn by noted artist Tess Fowler, and she brings out all the strengths of Kurtis Wiebe’s writing very well. And she really knows how to make an Orc look sexy. That’s talent.
We first meet Braga in her bathrobe that barely contains her ample bosom, “The morning after the Orc raid on Palisade”. She’s pure Rat Queens, combining fantasy and snark, with a knowing, intelligent sensibility, right down to her dragon slippers. Her cat is a particularly nice touch, and I didn’t miss how she refers to him as “you little shit”, a direct lift from Aliens, a clear influence on the series.
We then flash back to years before, when Braga was known as Broog, and rather than sporting a formidable pair of breasts, Broog has six pack abs and ripped muscles. And he’s a man. It’s at this point we discover that what we’re dealing with here is Rat Queens’ first (and perhaps one of the comics first) transsexual characters, but in the context of the fantasy world of the book, that really doesn’t seem that remarkable. Shape-shifting is part of the fantasy writer’s toolkit, and found in many mainstream works. If we’re okay with a character changing, for example, into a wolf, surely it’s not that big a stretch for a man to become a woman.
Gender identity has been fluid all the way through Rat Queens, anyway, as I’m sure we remember Violent defying family custom by shaving off her beard. In that story, very similar to this one, we are presented with a person who doesn’t fit within their society, who can’t seem to find a unique place, until they come to Palisade. Add the book’s pervasive (and refreshing) sex positivity, and we have a story that seems made for Rat Queens.
Broog is a great warrior, and the Crown Prince of his people. A veteran of many campaigns, he has mastered military strategy and philosophy to the point where every victory is more or less assured. (In this battle, his army suffered 14 casualties as opposed to 70 on the other side.) After many victory pints, his father takes him aside and says that it’s time for the fighting to end, that they are so superior to the enemy in soldiers and equipment that there simply isn’t any honour in fighting anymore, and besides, he’s worked out a disarmament treaty. True to the values of his people, Broog is mortified because the treaty humiliates their enemy (the “rockbreakers”). He mentions that they’ve been fighting against them for a thousand years, and at this point they should just fight to the death. “Blood is the only language we speak,” Broog says. He finally turns down the crown, and walks away from the kingdom forever.
Broog’s choice might seem odd to us, but it fits entirely in the consistent world of the mythic hero. A good definition of a hero is someone who exemplifies their culture perfectly. Broog is absolutely true to his culture’s principles, and the reason he leaves is not out of a loss of faith in those principles, but a great disappointment in his father’s resolve to uphold them. In other words, Broog is a purist, and his father isn’t. Rather than compromise, he leaves.
Then we get a classic Shakespearean twist, as Broog’s younger brother attacks him and his good friend Kiruk on the road. Broog’s brother isn’t the sharpest pencil in the box. He describes his action as “A political cup.” Broog shakes his head and says, “That’s coup, dog fucker.”
Their battle is brutal but short, and sadly, when Kiruk becomes a casualty, that gives Broog all the excuse he needs to unleash hell. He storms back to his father, tosses his brother’s dismembered corpse onto the dining table and walks away, with no regrets save the loss of his friend and his left eye.
We cut back to the present, where the now-female “Braga” has been telling this story to her “fuck buddy”, a handsome human. It turns out this was all a ruse, as she was feeding the guy coffee just to give him a sex break. Although he protests at being worn out, she tosses him over her shoulder after baring her breasts and carries him upstairs for “round three”.
I suppose what we really don’t see in this issue is what led to Braga’s transformation, how she achieved it, and how she got to Palisade. But given that this is “Braga #1”, it seems as if there will be more chapters featuring the character, who is a great addition to the rich fantasy world of Rat Queens.