RAT QUEENS #15 marks the end of another arc for the Queens. After the brilliant reversal revealed in the previous arc (issues #6-10), our heroes have been on a more linear quest. In the course of helping the Rat Queen’s former healer, Sadie, the Rat Queens are captured by an encampment of flesher orcs. But to make matters worse, not only did the fleshers have Orc Dave’s son, but their leader was none other than Voon, estranged brother of Braga.

With the table set for a trying climax, what sort of surprise could Kurtis J. Wiebe have in store? The answer, by the end, surprised me.

RAT QUEENS #15 Gives the Answer to the External Story Question as Well as the Internal Character Ones

William Goldman, important fantasy playwrite, once said “the key to all strong endings is to give the audience what it wants, but not in the way it expects.” Kurtis Wiebe’s script does not disappoint. The five-issue arc started with a question posed by Sadie (acting as quest-giver): could the Rat Queens clean the murderous orcs from the Burning Reach? Orc Dave was the first to volunteer help, so long as Sadie could help him find his son and clear his own woods. Violet joined next, and the other Queens were soon to follow. Dee, however, got spirited away to the realm of the gods to answer a prayer to cure Bilford Bogin. Naturally, all of these goals got put into question once they got captured by the flesh-molding orcs.

 

RAT QUEENS #15
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

Yet without saying how, I can say that Wiebe gave the ending we expected in an unexpected way. I have no complaints here. Wiebe has the envious ability to be really good at pacing both individual comics and entire arcs with action and panache. RAT QUEENS #15 reads just as well on its own as it does in a series.

But the other thing on which I need to commend Wiebe is how this comic advanced the individual stories of the Rat Queens and company. Everyone in the story — including Sadie, the newcomer — advances emotionally in one way or another. Granted, not every character has as an intense conclusion as some, but there is satisfaction all around. (And yes, I do mean the double-entendre: it is RAT QUEENS).

The Characters All End in a Good Spot… Mostly

At this point in RAT QUEENS, we’ve followed the characters throughout all manner of adventure, impersonal and personal. We’ve seen them on their journeys through time and space, emerging both with success and disaster. Out of the several serials I’ve followed, I can honestly say that they feel the most like old friends. I’ll certainly keep reading beyond RAT QUEENS #15. This issue itself didn’t do anything to detract from any of my feelings towards the characters.

But what’s been interesting about Volume II is that there has been less drama between the characters — at least in this timeline. In reading back through the series to prepare for this article, the Queens are definitely friendlier to each other than they were before. There’s trust in this timeline, and as such that does change the story dynamics. In the first fifteen issues of the series, the interpersonal conflicts never went away despite the external calamities. In a word, the stories were more dramatic. Now, things are much more procedural: conflict comes form the outside.

RAT QUEENS #15 affirms that changed tone in the series. And although Braga is fighting her brother and Orc Dave feels he has to choose between Violet and his son, those are all interpersonal conflicts external to the Queens. The comics feel friendlier and more at ease; it’s not bad: it’s just different.

RAT QUEENS #15
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

So if you’ve liked the series in the past, I imagine you’ll still like the characters by the end of RAT QUEENS #15. My one complaint about the issue is that Maddie, hopeful adventuring bard, kind of disappeared after the climax. That was disappointing because I thought her getting into the fray would have some sort of character consequence. Perhaps this will happen in Issue #16.

Owen Gieni Excels at Action and Quiet Moments

For the last fourteen issues, Owen Gieni has demonstrated a particular knack for RAT QUEENS. In a comic that swings between dialogue, banter, and pure action, art is needed to convey all of these with equal impact. In RAT QUEENS #15, Gieni delivers what I’ve come to expect of him.

On the one hand is the action. Gieni is particularly fond of the two-page layouts, and RAT QUEENS #15, with its climactic battles, includes two of these. Rather than trying to compress the drama of a fight within 3 or 4 panels, this lets Gieni expand it out to convey the equal moments of hope and fear. In the panel below, see how the tension builds in the final moments of the fight: the heroes swing, miss, build up their forces, and deliver the killing blow. There’s even time for gratification at the end.

Rat Queens #15
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

And Gieni also shows he can handle the quiet moments, too. Below, notice how he seamlessly moves from Violet’s perspective to Orc Dave’s. See how he uses background to emphasize the full-body emotions of Dave and his son. There’s a coldness in the colors and a crushing sense of anxiety. RAT QUEENS can be one of the most verbose comics I know, but it can also hold its tongue. The effect is profound. That is Gieni’s work.

Orc Dave
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

Final Thoughts on RAT QUEENS #15

I mentioned that Kurtis Wiebe had a surprise in store: it just wasn’t the one I wanted to hear. RAT QUEENS #15 includes the formal announcement that Wiebe and Gieni are leaving the series.

I have loved the crazy cross-arc plots, the attitudes, and the art of the new continuity. RAT QUEENS #15 confirmed that for me. As someone who genuinely enjoys this series, of course I want to see the good times last. But Wiebe is confident about the new creative team. New head writer Ryan Ferrier has been the series letterer and shares a similar sense of humor with Wiebe. Priscilla Petraites and Marco Lesko are artists Wiebes has wanted to work with but never had the chance. And for me, I don’t mind seeing more adventures from the Rat Queens. I also don’t mind Wiebe taking the creative break that he needs to pursue the opportunities that excite him. Burnout is not fun — my understatement of the year — and I want to support his decision in whatever small way I can.

Therefore, in the end, I can’t recommend RAT QUEENS #15 and this entire arc enough. All seems right with their world for now — at least until another owl-cursed druid crashes through their kitchen.

RAT QUEENS #15 by Kurtis J. Wiebe (script) and Owen Gieni (art)
Plot
Characterization
Art
Summary
RAT QUEENS #15 marks the end of both an arc and an era for the Rat Queens. As a comic itself, it reflects the typical quality of Wiebe’s scripts and Gieni’s art: the story has the right amount of tension for a climax, and I do think it can stand on its own. Ultimately, this story clears that narrative elements for the beginning of a new arc and a new creative team; this is what it needed to do. I can’t wait to see what the next adventure for the Queens will bring, and this issue has me primed for that.
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