Without getting too far into the behind the scenes drama, “Rat Queens” has sure been through a lot. The fact that the book still comes out at all is a sign that its something special. So here we are at the start of a new era. Former letterer (and also current letterer) Ryan Ferrier is our new writer and relative newcomer Priscilla Petraites is our new artist. A fresh creative team seems like just the thing for this series, and these guys proved that they had the special stuff with their one shot “Swamp Romp.” So how does their first issue of “Rat Queen” proper fare? It’s complicated.
Written by Ryan Ferrier
Illustrated by Priscilla Petraites
Colored by Marco Lesko
Lettered by Ryan Ferrier“THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING,” Part One In the wake of great change, the Rat Queens struggle to reclaim their sisterhood—just as a mysterious force of great vengeance sets its sights on Palisade. For our incorrigible band of adventurers, it’s personal. A new chapter begins here, with the all-new ongoing creative team of RYAN FERRIER, PRISCILLA PETRAITES, and MARCO LESKO!
“Rat Queens” is a funny book. It takes the absurd unreality of a D&D campaign, and tries to apply the game logic to the somewhat realistic lives of people (and elves and orcs and whatnot). There’s cursing. There’s fuckin’. There’s drugs and booze and magic mushrooms and wild parties. So it is curious to me that this arc begins with Betty trying to get sober.
Don’t get me wrong, alcoholism is a real disease, and there’s virtually no chance that Betty is free from addiction issues, but infernal Nrygoth is it a sudden tonal shift for the series. A scene that would normally get played for laughs- Betty puking too hard to join in a fight- reads as somber and serious. It’s a sensible character beat, but it feels sort of unearned at the beginning of this new direction, and that down note is representative of the rest of the cast.
Violet is gone. Hannah lost an arm, and her usual rage has cooled into sadness. Braga has also mellowed into a wise leader. And Maddy, the newest Rat Queen, is completely based upon the fact that she sucks. That leaves Dee, who is a perfect angel. She fights with a bow, with a sword, she does cool dark magic, she does cleric-y things. Dee is funny, true to character, and a total badass.
This new, more grounded, more serious gang ‘o Queens is played against a mysterious new villain. For most of the issue, this effectively drove the action. “Rat Queens” villains are usually not all that memorable, but they also tend to be flashy and ridiculous. I was ready to learn to hate this dangerous masked man, and cheer on the Queens as they cut him down to size. Then his identity is revealed on the last page, and its someone we’ve seen before. This fanservice-y throwback character really made me scratch my head.
Because on the one hand, I respect the team for taking the characters in a new direction. Even if it seems like a bummer to open on, that gives them space to rise to new hilarious heights. You gotta respect them for trying something new. But then to lean so hard on a familiar character to create conflict… it comes across as dissonant. It’s a bold new direction that suddenly morphs into playing the hits. The book’s mission statement seems muddled.
Because of the frequent artist turnover on “Rat Queens” (again, behind the scenes drama), there’s not really a recognizable style for the series, but I have made no secret of my love for the work of Owen Gieni. He’s a tough act to follow, and I don’t envy Petraites, who is talented but not experienced. So how does she step it up? By drawing harder than anyone ever has. You can feel her effort on every page. Even when her backgrounds are blurry, they are fully rendered. There are very few panels with solid-color backgrounds at all. She gives characters alternate but recognizable costumes, and its remarkable how consistent it all is. When she tackles something challenging- an abstract elemental effect, a big crowd scene- she rocks it. Her art is pretty high quality across the board, but to pull off such ambitious pages with such aplomb? I can’t wait to see where she’s at in five or ten years!Continued below
What I’m left with is a feeling of potential. Ferrier knows and loves these characters, and seems eager to prove himself as a writer. Petraites still has a long way to go, but she’s more than capable of doing the work. I can see both of them growing into their roles and making the best “Rat Queens” comic ever. But this issue is a bit of a stumble. The tone is all over the place and it seems eager to jettison the wrong things, while referencing unimportant series continuity. While this issue has its problems, I’m excited to stick with the team. Both of ’em; the one on the pages and the ones who make the pages.
Final Verdict: 6.4 – I wish I could give points for effort and for potential, but this issue feels like it needs a mulligan.