Between this and “Skullkickers” (also maybe the upcoming “Death Vigil”) Image has pretty much cornered the market on irreverent fantasy-adventure series. As for whether it’s the best irreverent fantasy-adventure title for your money; well, that’s up for debate. The Rat Queens are one of several mercenary groups hanging around the quiet and peaceful town of Palisade and making it considerably less quiet and peaceful with all of the drinking, fighting, and other unsavory antics they get up to. For penance, the Queens are assigned some menial out-of-town quests with the other groups -- Peaches, Four Daves, Brother Ponies, and Obsidian Darkness -- that turn out to be setups to get them all killed. From this setup as well as the chaos that follows, it’s clear that writer Kurtis J. Wiebe knows what kind of tone he wants for this story, and is successful in pulling it off more often than not. He’s also working with an artist in Roc Upchurch whose style looks detailed enough to pass for “serious” fantasy but proves to be surprisingly adept at selling all the jokes.
Where the book falls down a bit is in its characters. The four Rat Queens are billed on the back cover as: Hannah, the rockabilly elven mage; Violet, the hipster dwarven fighter; Dee, the atheist human cleric; and Betty, the hippy smidgen (read: gnome/hobbit/short fantasy person) thief. Do these descriptions match up with the standard-issue characterizations we get on the inside? No, but seeing each character in her role feels more like the literary equivalent of comfort food than annoying. That said, the idea of an atheist in a “Dungeons & Dragons”-style world is more dumb than anything else. Fans of “Skullkickers” should also know that this title is certifiably R-rated in its language and violence and while that approach leads to some eye-popping moments and great one-liners it makes me appreciate that title’s well-crafted absurdity all the more. I was entertained, but let’s see if future volumes can actually make these Rat Queens into actual characters as opposed to instruments designed to riff on genre tropes.