Sunday, 19 April 2015

Rat Queens, Volume 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'rygoth Review (Kurtis Wiebe, Roc Upchurch)

Bilford Bogin, it’s been a while since Rat Queens Volume 1! 

The Queens are back and thank gods they haven’t changed. The book opens the morning after a heavy night out. They’ve got hangovers, some are embarrassed over who they hooked up with, and one of the statue’s in Palisade is missing its stone penis! Things are about to get more fun though as Lovecraftian monsters begin appearing in the sky as a damaged man attempts to wipe Palisade off the map - Rat Queens to the rescue! 

I mention the length of time since the first volume because you might want to re-read it, or at least skim it, in order to get the most out of Volume 2. Remember Gerrig Lake from the first book? Me neither but he’s the Big Bad of this story. That’s the only failing of this book: it assumes the reader is a megafan who knows everything about the series and I’m definitely more of a casual fan. 

A character called Bernadette plays a minor role at the start and I had to stop and pick up Volume 1 to remind myself who she was before going back to the book. This won’t be a problem to anyone reading these books back to back sometime in the future but for those of us reading them as they come out, there’s loooong stretches of time in between them so it’s tricky to keep everything straight. 

But there is a sad reason for this delay. Roc Upchurch, the artist of the series, was arrested for domestic abuse in November 2014. Writer Kurtis Wiebe made the choice to fire Upchurch - the only one he could make really, given that RQ is a feminist comic and having a wifebeater onboard as principal artist is contradictory to that spirit, not to mention being repellant in itself - so the series went on hiatus for several months while Wiebe looked for a replacement: Stjepan Sejic, who took over from RQ #9. 

Getting back to the book: the story is as fun as ever. Wiebe flawlessly switches from adult humour to fantastical action to straight drama from one scene to the next. Handily the Lovecraft monsters feed on displaced reality so the Queens have flashbacks, giving us more of their backgrounds. 

The Violet issue was the best in the book. Tradition excluded her from taking part in tournaments despite being a better fighter than her brother while her dad insisted she model his armour for his leering customers. She takes a stand and changes her life in keeping with the tone and theme of progressive societal attitudes. 

The female empowerment continues as Hannah’s on again/off again boyfriend Sawyer is kidnapped and she has to save him - the man is the damsel in distress for a change. Hannah’s origins are more truncated but we find out why she’s got that Amy Winehouse beehive do and (of course - she’s the daughter of necromancers) we see her teen goth phase in magic high school! 

Credit where its due and Upchurch’s art is as wonderful as ever. Lola’s fight scene (had to look up who she was too!) is amazingly rendered and the characters’ facial expressions are still incredibly evocative - basically all of his pages and covers look awesome. Shame he turned out to be such a horrible person. 

Sejic is no slouch either and though his art is different, the quality is no less brilliant. The Queens going up against Gerrig’s forces, Betty in action, Hannah, Tizzie and a whole mess of magic users throwing out colourful spells and that cool splash page of Vi and Dave snogging before battle - all of it is really, really good! 

The story is a bit of a hodgepodge plot-wise jumping from one thing to another and Gerrig seems like a very one-dimensional baddie who you never really believe is going to accomplish his plans - he’s very obviously there for the Queens to defeat. Also the non-superfans are going to find this a little confusing regarding the characters because Wiebe takes it as read that you instantly remember who everyone is, and I also feel Lovecraftian monsters are so overplayed these days. 

Otherwise, I’d say this is an excellent second volume in the series. Rat Queens continues to entertain whether you’re a fan of fantasy stories or not - the humour and delightful characters transcend the genre and makes the series unique and contemporary all at once, and the art is a real treat throughout. Here’s hoping Volume 3 doesn’t take over a year to materialise!

Rat Queens, Volume 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'rygoth

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