Written by Kurtis J Wiebe
Art by Tess Fowler
Cover by Stjepan Šejic
Colors by Tamra Bonvillain
Letters by Ed Brisson
Edits by Laura Tavishati
Published by Image Comics on December 30, 2015
This bravura issue is everything readers have come to want and expect from the penultimate entry in a Rat Queens’ arc. All the pieces are now in place to have a truly climactic finale: backstories and secrets are revealed while new discoveries create ever rising action. The cliff-hanger and cover preview for January’s issue left me tied in knots.
The cover brilliantly presents the metafictional construct of this series. Our four Rat Queens, based on classic Dungeons & Dragons character types, sit around an inn table playing a variation of D&D. They display a range of emotions–Hannah livid at a negative turn of events, Dee (here the DeeM–har!) apprehensively waiting to continue the narrative, Betty smiling casually, and Violet heartily laughing at Hannah’s outburst. Similarly, in the issue’s narrative, Dee and Hannah have the more dramatic parts while Betty and Violet supply the comic turns.
Wiebe structures the A-, B-, and C-plots to continually raise the tension. When one plot reaches a climax, he immediately switches to another. When that one reaches its tensest point, he switches again. Eventually, he returns to the scene to release the tension with irony, humor, or resolution. It is an extremely effective way to handle the three storylines. Story A, here, is Hannah’s reunion with her mother and the information she reveals. Story B is Dee’s reunion with her brother and the information he reveals. Story C is Violet and Betty’s run-in with a dragon.
I don’t normally bother with spoiler warnings, but this is an issue you’ll want to enjoy the surprises of. Read it first.
What I loved about Story A: Finally we get an understanding of who Gerard is and why he’s important. Hannah, like many step-daughters, has often found herself hating Gerard and feeling bitter about the childhood he gave her after her mother died. Turns out that he took on risk and sacrifice to rescue Hannah from her mother’s murderers and create a place for her in the human world. The flashback is drawn with gravitas and expressive emotion, and the story is gripping.
Furthermore, Hannah finds herself receiving the help of long-time frenemy, Tizzie. Wiebe writes the dialogue between these two as a heavily barbed parley. This is witty repartee with the crassness turned all the way up. It feels real to how two women talk to each other when they’ve gotten past all the falseness of societal expectations. That said, this is the first time Fowler has illustrated Tizzie, and while I’ve gotten used to the changes in other characters, I found myself missing the more distinct Tizzie of Šejic’s hand.
Story B is the slightest of the three this time out. Dee continues to reveal to her brother all that has happened since they were last together, now telling him about what she saw in the mask. Of course, this is news to us as well. N’Rygoth has been imprisoned as a power-source for Dee’s people. She gets Senoa to agree that the god must be killed. Then we learn why he’s even there. It’s the five-year reunion. Turns out he was in the same class as Tizzie and Hannah. He knows things (or thinks he does.) “Hannah’s a monster,” he tells Dee. Dee then demands that she and Hannah have a “heart to heart.”
And though I labeled this as Story C, because it seems less central than the other two, as with the last two issues, we open on Violet. She’s looking up at an ice dragon with glowing green eyes and an open maw. Her response is once again both apt and hilarious: “Son of a kitten.” Actually, she doesn’t know how right she is. After she wins initiative, her charge garners an attack of opportunity by the dragon who hits with a wing attack and then pins her to the wall with his ice breath. Left on the ground, Betty does what any pint-sized melee player would do and nervously pokes the dragon then politely requests that he not eat her. Make a persuasion roll, Smidgeon.
Turns out, this dragon does not eat humanoids; in fact, it’s partial to candy. Betty has never met a dragon she has liked more. Me neither. Tess Fowler’s depiction of this dragon laughing good-naturedly at Betty’s earnest but crude question about dick tickling had me mirroring the dragon’s broad smile.
As Daniel the Dragon shows them his hoard–the candy is the true treasure, everything else goes in the junk pile–Violet spies a fancy-looking broad sword. She casually asks the dragon if she can have it, but when she equips it, it feeds black wisps into her eyes, possessing her with an hours-long vision of the previous owner being attacked by a scantily-clad mage. As they leave the dragon’s cave, Betty asks about Violet’s lack of interaction, is everything okay. “Yeah,” she says as she becomes more and more slanted in her panel. “I’m good.” But that shifting angle of composition suggests anything but.
The sword, then, brings Violet back into the action, and it might just be why we started these last three issues with her even though she’s been a more passive player in the arc.
In all, this is exactly what I want a lead-in to the arc’s finale issue to be. I am fully engaged with the humor and gravitas of the story and desperate to get my hands on the next one.