Let’s briefly review the strongest qualities of Rat Queens as a comic. Great dialogue, rich characters whose emotional journey is completely relatable, even as their environment is a classic action-packed magical fantasy world and conflicts that hinge as much on personal loyalty and self-image as swords, magic or other such sequences. To that list we could add a healthy sex positivity, body positivity and a feminist sensibility rarely seen outside of the Whedon-verse. Those are the things that keep me coming back to this comic month after month, and they’re worth a mention here because they’re all on prominent display in issue #10.
This really is a pivotal issue of Rat Queens in terms of narrative. There have been a lot of flashback sequences in the last few issues, which have effectively filled in the details of the past lives of our heroes. This time, the flashbacks are at a minimum: it’s time to resolve the conflict between the Queens and Gerrig, who is holding Sawyer hostage and calling down the power of a tentacled demon God to ravage the town of Palisade. That God, of course, is the same God worshipped by Dee’s traditional culture, so it should be no surprise that Dee herself, with her estranged husband helping with various chants, who takes the demon God by the tentacles and finally gets the “job” done here.
But typically for a book of the caliber of Rat Queens, the end of the battle isn’t the end of the story. The whole Palisade situation is pretty much wrapped up about 2/3 of the way into this issue, as a matter of fact. What matters much more is how the relationships between the characters are evolving and changing, as well as how the characters themselves are growing on their journey.
Because ultimately Rat Queens is about identity, and that’s one of the reasons why it has such great appeal. It’s about, at least in part, the importance of carving out your own slice of the world, of transcending your upbringing and the expectations of society and simply actualizing your own identity. Whether it’s shaving (or not), using magic or, as revealed in this issue, having some sort of physical trait about which they’re terribly self-conscious, these characters are all struggling with the weight of expectations. Their triumph is overcoming them, which is much trickier than fighting the power of a tentacled demon God.
[Spoilers from here]
There’s a lot of Hannah here, as has been emphasized in previous issues, as opposed to Dee and Violet, who were satisfied with their single issue backstory (or Betty, who was happy with a single page). Hannah is probably the angriest and most conflicted and confused member of the Queens, having seen her mother killed in front of her and, as we find out here, spent her youth in “Mage U” as essentially a Goth Girl. The emphasis on her character here makes a certain sense, since the stakes in this battle are very personal for her.
The relationship between Hannah and Sawyer, who is finally rescued here in this issue, is interesting to us as a reader because of how it illuminates Hannah’s character. Sawyer, as we’ve mentioned before, seems fairly devoid of guile. He really likes Hannah, and is certainly willing to be her boyfriend and lover. But Hannah, carrying a huge chip on her shoulder, is at least partially convinced that it’s only a matter of time before Sawyer, a full human, gets repulsed by some physical manifestation of her partially demon nature. All supernatural elements aside, this is a very understandable human insecurity. (“Will he still find me hot when he sees the stretch marks?”) The key flashback here is to an earlier sex scene between Hannah and Sawyer when she reveals to him, for the first time, the Horns she keeps hidden by (it seems) physically shaving them down and hiding them under piles of black hair. Sawyer doesn’t exactly run screaming, but he’s surprised and somewhat shocked, which is more than enough for Hannah to cast him aside and cry.
Luckily, after Sawyer is finally saved, it seems that he and Hannah will repair their relationship. (For the record, it never seemed as if Sawyer was that upset by the horns. But of course, with body shame and insecurity, it doesn’t take much to trigger someone emotionally.)
In other couple-type developments, Violent and Orc Dave continue to be a sweet partnering, with Orc Dave playing such a heroic role in the battle that Violent wants to toss him down and “do” him right then and there, before Dee pulls her on.
Dee, now the high priest of her religion, views her powerful and cultured husband as a symbol of an era she has left behind. She, in fact, makes it very clear that she’ll do everything in her power to protect her friends from the god they worship, rather than petitioning it for favour. Betty, for her part, is pretty much a cameo in this issue, but we all know that she uses drugs to hide from the fact that she’s struggling with relationships as well, and dealing with rejection. (And she also loves doing drugs, full-stop. So, that’s there, too.)
That’s the main point, however, of this issue and frankly of the last ten issues of Rat Queens. You can fight a tentacled god and beat him, but can you do the much more difficult thing of living an authentic life? It’s questions like that which make this comic so strong, and allow it to completely transcend its genre.