What on Infinite Earth is: Rat Queens
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Rat Queens is the best comic book that I am ever going to tell you not to buy. I don’t like to let real life influence my reading habits too much. Half of the point of reading is to get away from real life. But this was one of those deeply unfortunate instances where the actions of the people involved in the making of a piece of fiction overshadow the quality of the work.
Make no mistake, Rat Queens is an exceptional series. The setting is similar to your bog standard Dungeons and Dragons fantasy world with a few clever or funny twists. The plot follows an all female group of adventurers, the titular Rat Queens, as they are occasionally forced to go on actual adventures by outside circumstances such as running out of money or being harassed into it by the locals. They would far prefer to hang around partying, drinking, eating and generally making a nuisance of themselves to the hard working residents of the city they have decided to appoint themselves the protectors of. Even among the other groups of adventurers they are considered to be louts barely better than the monsters that they fight.
The dialogue is natural and the comedic timing is excellent, the book would get a recommendation on them alone but the characters are where the story really starts to shine. Everyone has their own complex history that interacts with everyone else’s at unexpected moments. While the main plot drags all of the Rat Queens into action together, they all have their own lives to be getting on with the rest of the time. Many people have hailed this particular story as feminist for having a purely female adventuring party. I am not fond of using that metric to judge the quality of a piece of fiction, the world is not cleanly divided into things which are and are not in favour of equality for women. However, if there was ever going to be a story that I would attach that label to it might have been this one. Not because of the “ladette” behaviour of the party. Nor because the captain of the guard love interest is consistently treated as eye candy. The most important relationships in this story are between the Rat Queens. I am a sucker for the ragtag group of misfits becoming a family cliché. The moments when you see beneath the scabby, hardened exteriors of the characters to their shared love for one another makes this story into more than the sum of their parts.
So what could have happened that would make me turn around to you and say “don’t buy this book?” The artist was the proud recipient of a domestic abuse charge. It would be hard to continue talking about the feminism of this series with that looming in the background. The publishers did the right thing immediately. He was asked to step down, a new artist was brought in and a second trade paperback was assembled from her work. Everything was on track for the series to continue. Then once the furore had settled down, the original artist was brought back in by the publisher, hoping that nobody would notice. No part of that is acceptable to me. So despite the work being good, I cannot in good conscience suggest that anyone hands the people involved any more money.