Review: Rat Queens #9

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Review: Rat Queens #9
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Kurtis J. Wiebe
Art: Stjepan Šejić

We can all breathe a sigh of relief now, as Rat Queens has finally returned and we can once again enjoy our regular fix of “sass and sorcery.” #9 sees the return of writer Kurtis J. Wiebe and the first outing of Rat Queens’ new regular artist Stjepan Šejić- known for his work on Witchblade and Aphrodite IX- following the swift firing of Roc Upchurch following his domestic abuse arrest. For the unfamiliar, Rat Queens follows a group of four diverse warriors as they defend themselves from bad guys and their home town of Palisade.

#9 opens to a brief glimpse into Hannah’s childhood and tragic family history- a quick trip down memory lane reminiscent of #8’s focus on Violet’s back story- interspersed with other memories including hung-over apocalyptic carnage and super sexy situations between herself and Sawyer. There’s a reunion of sorts amongst our favourite heroes, which resonates with the reader seeing as it feels like a lifetime since we’ve seen them (5 months has felt like a lifetime). This motley crew are up against Abyssal Shibagu, demons that feed on the energy of displaced reality, explaining Hannah’s lapses in and out of the past and providing the Rat Queens with destructive and pretty tricky foes to handle. Oh, and Palisade is crumbling to the ground following the slaughter of the Town’s Watch by Gerrig, who is holding Sawyer hostage to lure in Hannah. So that’s a thing as well. The final panel is an excruciating cliff hanger that threatens the future of a beloved character and the team as a whole.

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Dialogue is as funny, foul and touching as ever, most apparent in the pep talk Hannah’s mum delivers to her, which has the power to bring a tear to the eye of the most stony-hearted-reader.  As always, Rat Queens’ brash delivery is refreshing and an important part of its charm, what keeps faithful readers coming back each issue. It’s funny and doesn’t take itself super seriously, which is important in a fantasy series about followers that include hipster dwarves and Halflings partial to candy and drugs. Stand-out quotes include the immortal “…when the entire world is crumbling to the ground, Grandpa Dee is balls-deep in a book?” Plus the story itself is eventful and at times shocking with a real emotional weight in its sudden twists and turns.

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Šejić does a great job with the art work in #9, especially when Tess Fowler’s sublime guest illustration in the Braga-centred special in January was a hard act to follow. His characters are emotive and embrace a subtle departure from Upchurch’s work. There is of course nudity, which isn’t gratuitous or male gaze-y. As is always the case in Rat Queens, Hannah is sexual but not sexualised, which is an important distinction. Also particularly enjoyable are Šejić’s use of blood splattering across panels and old-school onomatopoeia.

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The scenes depicting Sawyer’s captivity and torture, for example, present gorgeous backdrops to gleefully violent foreground activity. The fight scenes are gloriously gratuitous, contrasting the horrific violence with a backdrop to great effect. Seeing the magnificent Betty weave in and out of opponents legs and inflict bloody carnage is especially satisfying and enjoyable. The battle scene near the end paces the story really well, and it’s always great to see the Rat Queens doing what they do best. #9 also features a sublime cover by guest artist Jenny Frison; Dee has never looked more badass, brandishing two daggers with skull-centric accessories to boot. Fingers crossed Frison becomes a more regular feature.

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Rat Queens #9 is a welcome return to an excellent series, with great art work, snappy dialogue and a tumultuous plot. For all its glorious violence, laugh out loud humour and elements of classic fantasy, Rat Queens has a lot of heart and emotional weight, which makes it stand out from other fantasy titles and explains why it’s pretty much the best series out at the moment.