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The Book Beat: Damsels causing distress

Wiebe's fantasy comic full of 'Sass & Sorcery'

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Tired of all these leading ladies who can’t trouble to save themselves? Searching for fictional females with a stronger dose of empowerment and independence? Ready to read about some dangerous dames for a change? Then look no further, the Rat Queens are here.

Kurtis J. Wiebe’s newest graphic novel series, Rat Queens, takes a classic Lord of the Rings world, then adds a little Bridesmaids, a touch of Tank Girl, and a pinch of­ roller derby gal gangs.

In volume one — aptly subtitled “Sass & Sorcery” — Wiebe introduces readers to an old-school, Dungeons & Dragons-style mercenary gang: “a pack of booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens-for-hire” who are “in the business of killing all the gods’ creatures for profit.”

There’s Hannah the “Rockabilly Elven Mage,” Violet the “Hipster Dwarven Fighter,” Dee the “Atheist Human Cleric,” and Betty the “Hippy Smidgen Thief.” Each woman is a force to be reckoned with in her own right, but together, they spell trouble.

And trouble is exactly how the Rat Queens’ story begins. When their latest drunken brawl results in citywide destruction, the Rat Queens are given an ultimatum: either leave town and never come back or risk life and limb to fulfill a dangerous quest. It’s a no-brainer decision for the Rat Queens. Of course they take on the dangerous quest. As they soon discover, though, someone has sabotaged the quest, making it far more perilous than anybody anticipated … someone who doesn’t want the Rat Queens to make it back home.

Wiebe’s Rat Queens is a tried-and-true adventure story with a refreshingly modern twist. Even though the story takes place in a setting with medieval technology and architecture, the world’s culture is one that supports contemporary ideas. This is especially visible in the Rat Queens themselves.

Hannah, Violet, Dee and Betty are no “proper” ladies waiting for a prince to come along and rescue them. Foul-mouthed, violent and unabashedly open about their latest flings, they are strong, capable and proud individuals who would rather take care of themselves.

This individuality comes through beautifully in Roc Upchurch’s art. The Rat Queens represent a vast spectrum of body types that is more reflective of reality, and the clothing they wear is actually suited to their tasks. No chainmail bikinis for these girls.

Keep in mind, though, that the Rat Queens never shy away from violence. This means that the artist doesn’t either. As such, any squeamish readers may want to avoid this series. Those who can stomach some blood and guts, though, should put Rat Queens at the top of their reading list.

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