We should probably play a bit of catch-up for this new issue of Rat Queens. After all, issue #8 ended on a cliffhanger (as did issue #7) but that was back in October. Now, here we are in March and finally getting some resolution to that tension. For the past three issues, including this one, the Queens were dealing with their own individual problems, and we got some of their backstory and history. Dee was dealing with her conflict about living up to her religious expectations and being faithful to her arranged husband. Violet told the painful tale of being female in a world dominated by warrior men, and here we have Hannah’s story, or at least she’s at the centre of the action and we get some more of her heritage. But each of those stories ended, or sometimes wove in and out of, a serious, dark, knock-down, drag-out battle with a giant tentacled monster and the need to rescue Sawyer from Gerrig Lake, who is using Dee’s power to control the monstrous forces. (Violet summarizes the whole thing for her sometime-boyfriend Orc Dave.)
They all love Sawyer, that’s for sure, being the good, strong, handsome sort that he is, and have to fight pretty much the entire phalanx of archers in Palisade to get him. Longtime readers of Rat Queens will be happy to hear that this issue also ends on a cliffhanger.
Also, this is the first issue we have with art by comics veteran Stjepan Sejic (Kurtis J. Wiebe remains the writer and driving force). He was absolutely the right choice to take over from Roc Upchurch, and although Sejic’s lines are distinctly rougher and more painterly than Upchurch’s cleaner, digitally-enhanced compositions, it’s still Rat Queens. With this book, it’s all in the faces, the little expressions of incredulity or amusement (or, in the case of Betty, intoxication) and the fierce warrior poses. Any number of artists could render the textured Fantasy world of the Queens, but the challenge is absolutely the quirky, strong, sensitive, flawed characters.
[Entering the Spoiler Zone]
As we’ve mentioned, the central character in this issue is Hannah, and we start with a long sequence in which someone who looks a great deal like her is trying to buy magic supplies, and is turned down, and kicked out of the store. She raises the familiar middle finger gesture that is Hannah’s trademark, but she isn’t in fact, our hero, but Hannah’s mother. This flashback to a memory of her mother provides the gateway back into the “present” moment, the dark battle of Palisade. Hannah raises her hand to cast a spell on the horrifying monster and finds herself slipping back into a memory of a sexual encounter with Sawyer.
Hannah is utterly confused, and Sawyer (God bless him) simply offers to change positions. Hannah continues to ride her gentleman until she flashes back to the present moment once again, pulling Violet and Dee from the streets and reuniting the Queens. As a narrative device, this scene establishes something of the relationship with Sawyer, reminds us that he’s a handsome “nice” guy and what the personal stakes are in this battle.
But it also hits one of the greater themes of Rat Queens, which is a very progressive and feminist attitude towards lots of things, including sex. In its way, this book is just as sex positive as something like Sex Criminals, in the sense that it allows sexual agency to be equal opportunity. In other words, it posits the astonishing (for North American stories, anyway) notion that women want and like sex just as much as men. This seemingly obvious point is, of course, hardly ever represented in media or in art, built as our culture is around patriarchal notions of female desire and male entitlement. (And this book isn’t completely flawless – clearly they draw the women in sexual situations that make them into eroticized figures. But, importantly, they aren’t as ridiculous as many of the female superhero comics, they treat the men the same way, and the story is entirely told from a female perspective.)
Now that the Queens are back together, they rally other local heroes (Orc Dave, Braga, who got her own special issue back in January) and it’s Betty that leads the charge. Spells abound, including one remarkable one cast by Hannah that creates spikes to take down an entire line of archers defending a rampart. But it may not be enough: and it’s here that the Rat Queens crew leaves us for another month.
It’s really wonderful to have this book back on the shelves, and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing more new issues. Because hey, we have to save Sawyer.