Rat Queens Volume 5 Review

Written by Kurtis J Wiebe
Art by Owen Gieni

It’s hard to believe that Kurtis J. Wiebe’s fantasy comic book series Rat Queens has been around for five years already; it bolted out of the gate with an Eisner nomination for Best New Series in 2014 and bagged a GLAAD Media Award the year after.

Half a decade on, we have Rat Queen’s Vol 5: The Colossal Magic Nothing, which collects #6 – #10, following the “soft reboot” after a 12 month long hiatus the year before.

After a slew of temporary pencillers, Wiebe seems to have now found a permanent partner in crime in Owen Gieni, who shows off a creative range of styles in this collection; from his hilarious, trippy, toad-licking, drug fueled battles, which he’s drawn in the style of early Disney animation, to a faux-flashback rendered in the style of an 80’s Saturday morning cartoon.

Rat Queens is set in the fantasy town of Palisade. The series follows a fun-loving, heavy drinking, foul-mouthed, sexually liberated band of mercenaries. The comic has been praised for its progressive and diverse characters, including a range of races, species, sexualities, genders and attitudes.

The enjoyment that one derives from Rat Queens is not just from its kick-ass characters or its playful and dynamic art, but also from the satisfying way in which the characters interact, creating a brilliant ensemble piece. Reading the comics allows you to spend time with a gang of people that you think you could be friends with (despite the fact that their own friendships seem quite fractious)

The Colossal Magic Nothing opens with a “one off special”, bulking out the backstory of Orc Dave, an early supporting character and audience favourite. This stand alone story is another wonderful chapter adding to the ever expanding lore of Palisade.

As much as I love the characters Wiebe has created and am a fan of his hilarious dialogue, his storytelling can sometimes hit a bum note. For the most part, Rat Queens works best when we are simply on a playful adventure with our 5 heroines working together to overcome a challenge. However, it seems like Wiebe gets bored using this winning formula of action and humour and experiments with something not as straightforward.

The story throughout this trade includes all the components of a complex and confusing narrative; time travel, memory wiping sorcery, reality warping narcotics, etc. Even with a reread, I’m still at a bit of a loss for what exactly happened during issues 8 – 10. Unfortunately, the parallel realities aren’t clearly enough separated so it’s hard to feel any sense of jeopardy or satisfaction in a story that you’re struggling to follow.

There’s also a surprising lack of action, which seems out-of-character for both the title and for our five protagonists. Confusingly, one Rat Queen even states that killing is not for her, despite plenty of evidence from previous issues that she will get stabby at the first opportunity.

Rat Queens is one of the most fun series going but The Colossal Magic Nothing feels like an experiment that went a bit… boring.

That said, I’ll be picking up the next trade in the confidence that Rat Queens has a long and successful run ahead, even if it does trip up occasionally.