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    “Rat Queens Special: Swamp Romp” #1

    By | April 12th, 2019
    Posted in Reviews | % Comments

    With an all-new creative team, “Rat Queens Special Swamp Romp” #1 is both a sea change and a return to form, filled with the hijinks, violence, and humorous fantasy fans of the franchise have grown to love.

    Cover by Priscilla Petraites

    Written and lettered by Ryan Ferrier
    Illustrated by Priscilla Petraites
    Colored by Marco Lesko

    Dragons. Monsters. Tricksters. The Rat Queens have seen—and slayed!—it all. But when a dying man of great wealth hires our heroes to exact revenge for the murder of his prized unicorn, Betty, Hannah, Braga, Violet, and Dee are suddenly thrust into a quest that may bring them face-to-face with a mythological creature thought only to exist in bedtime stories. This is Palisade’s urban legend, and it will end with either death or a mass fortune. Featuring the all-new RAT QUEENS creative team, RYAN FERRIER (Death Orb, Criminy) and PRISCILLA PETRAITES (Brilliant Trash)—who will be taking the reins of the ongoing title starting with issue #16!

    “Rat Queens” readers are no stranger to change. In the five years since the series premiered, the embattled title has switched illustrators, colorists, and letterers multiple times. Writer Kurtis J. Wiebe has been the one consistent creative team member, but his work is another matter. Wiebe has retconned and soft-rebooted his own story in the past, leaving many readers feeling confused.

    Longtime letterer of the series, Ryan Ferrier, has stepped up as the new writer, starting with “Rat Queens Special Swamp Romp” #1. This one-shot issue has all the hallmarks that hooked “Rat Queens” fans originally: foul mouths, witty banter, and a simple quest that quickly devolves into one that’s dangerous and complicated. Less on-brand for the “Rat Queens” team, however, are the character designs. The new series illustrator, Priscilla Petraites, draws each to look like a model, with perfectly cultivated eyebrows and movie starlet faces. Dee’s characteristic hairstyle is abandoned in favor of a more windswept look. Colorist Marco Lesko gives the characters’ eyes a sparkly, ethereal glow. Though these character changes may be initially off-putting, Petraites and Lesko are obviously skilled. Plus, what’s one more change in an ever-shifting franchise?

    For an issue with unicorns on the cover, “Rat Queens Special Swamp Romp” is DARK. Like, dark dark. Rather than shimmering rainbows, Lesko fills the panels with black, grays, and deep blues and reds. The unicorns themselves, creatures whose white fur should be stark and bright against the dreary swamp tones, look shadowy, less magical and more haunting, like the moon behind a cloud. In typical “Rat Queens” fashion, Lesko takes the readers’ expectations and turns them on their heads. But the darker, foreboding palette is also a subtle clue that things aren’t as they seem as the women head deep into the swamp for their quest.

    Priscilla Petraites is remarkable at drawing both beautiful fantasy elements and brutal, visceral violence. She has one splash page, in particular, that’s a straight-up show-stopper, but the entirety of “Rat Queens Special Swamp Romp” #1 is equally detailed and well-drawn. Petraites gives special attention to dramatic lighting and grotesque (meaning “comically ugly or distorted” not simply “gross”) imagery that builds the book’s fantastical-yet-farcical tone.

    Ferrier leans into the absurdist take on the fantasy genre as well, disrupting the traditional tropes mostly through unexpected characterization: a kindly old man with some “unique” tastes, a magical creature who is actually monstrous, and a monster who’s more like that guy from your hometown who never figured out what he wanted to do with his life. Braga and Dee, unfortunately, take a backseat to make room for other characters who are more central to the plot in “Rat Queens Special Swamp Romp” #1. It’s a shame because Hannah and Betty are so often the focal characters of “Rat Queens,” some fans might have hoped that tradition would change with the new creative team.

    Witty banter and bombastic dialogue have always been foundational elements of the series, and Ryan Ferrier doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it feels like “Rat Queens” is itself again, unencumbered by the past events and retcons that weighed so heavily on the characters. While part of that may just be the magic of the one-shot not having to be too connected with the goings-on in the regular series, focusing more on the fun elements of the franchise helps give a feeling of security to readers skeptical of the new creative team. Plus, who doesn’t love humorous anachronistic exchanges, parents secretly being swingers or unicorn chlamydia?

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    As the letterer, Ferrier uses larger, colorful fonts that explode out of word balloons to show how out-of-place the characters’ shouts are in the quiet of the swamp. His heavy use of sound effects during action scenes works together with the gory violence depicted in Petraites’s line art to build on “Rat Queens Special Swamp Romp’s” grotesque tone. Some scenes can get a little dialogue-heavy, since the series has such a focus on banter, and something has to move the plot forward. But working as both writer and letterer seems like it might help temper the need to dive headlong into dialogue, and there’s a good balance of banter and action in “Rat Queens Special Swamp Romp” #1.

    For those who were shaken off the “Rat Queens” bandwagon in the past, or who have not yet dipped their toe into the franchise, “Rat Queens Special Swamp Romp” #1 makes for an excellent jumping-on point, especially with regard to the new creative team taking over. There’s no knowledge of past events necessary to enjoy this story, and maybe it’s better to come to it without trying to make sense of everything that’s happened up to now. This one-shot gets to the heart of the title and what attracted so many readers to it in the first place: a fantasy story with a twist and a quest that feels like a Dungeons & Dragons campaign with friends. The cursing, humor, gratuitous violence, and beautiful art and color are just icing on the proverbial cake – a promise that this new creative team plans to right a ship that’s spent too long on turbulent seas.

    Final Verdict: 7.8 – With a talented new creative team, “Rat Queens Special Swamp Romp” #1 finally feels like “Rat Queens” again.

    Matt Ligeti

    Also known as "The Comic Book Yeti," Matt Ligeti writes simple, scannable reviews of comics at ComicBookYeti.com. He lives with his yeti family in the Midwest, but is ready to pick up and leave immediately if spotted. Find him on Twitter at @ComicBookYeti.