Image Comics’ stellar fantasy series Rat Queens returns for its 13th issue, with writer Kurtis J. Wiebe and artist Tess Fowler delivering another outing of “sass and sorcery.” The issue sees each queen embark on their own mini-story while at Mage University, briefly separated while Hannah attempts to resolve some family problems. Picking up from the last two issues, her father remains imprisoned for encouraging student rebellion. Hannah is still unwelcome at the university but meets her former professor Filch and reveals there is much about her family background and possible demonic heritage to reveal. There is a particularly poignant and emotional (damn you, Wiebe!) reunion that may be the highlight of the issue. While each queen brings their own story and charm to the team, Hannah’s current story arc suggests she may be the most complex and intriguing in the bunch.
While it’s always awesome to see the queens together, separating them every so often allows Wiebe to showcase each character in a different light or expand on them even further. Dee is totally in her element as she explores the university’s extensive library, heading straight to the religious collection and meeting her brother Senoa, with whom she clearly has a lot to catch up. Betty, in particular, functions perfectly as the issue’s comic relief (as always), travelling through the beautifully illustrated MU markets and acquiring a bonkers sled to throw herself and Violet into peril. It’s unusual to see a cliff hanger that isn’t super-serious and is actually fun to anticipate, even if their antics are likely to antagonise the potential next big bad.
Wiebe perfectly balances the changes in tone between the different stories, most apparent between Hannah and Betty’s separate adventures. Humour is placed beside more dramatic or significant moments without being jarring, which is an impressive accomplishment. Rat Queens #13 also serves as a chance for readers to take a breath and regroup after an eventful few outings; a lot has happened in Palisade over the past few issues and taking time to chill- as much as the queens really can- feels like a good idea.
Fowler’s art work continues to impress, delivering hugely expressive characters and complimenting Wiebe’s dialogue excellently. The varying locations and situations for each queen affords Fowler and Bonvillain the luxury and challenge of creating so many distinct and developed environments. The artists execute this perfectly: the scenes involving Hannah and Filch being particularly beautiful, with a dark and moody colour scheme and fantastical pencilling. Mage University proves to be a vibrant, colourful platform for Fowler and Bonvillain to illustrate and makes for beautiful art work.
Despite all this, Rat Queens #13 may not be as stellar as previous outings, simply because the characters seem to truly thrive when surrounded by chaos and action. But the beauty of Rat Queens is that the characters are so endearing, the writing so sharp and funny and the story arcs so compelling that even when things seem a little slow by previous standards, the reading experience is still hugely enjoyable. #13 serves to set up future storylines- Hannah’s complex family drama in the long-term, Betty’s sled-related mischief in the short-term- but entertains us enormously in the meantime. Hopefully the upcoming issues will feature the action and carnage Rat Queens readers have come to love so much.
Rat Queens #13
Written by Kurtis J Wiebe
Illustrated by Tess Fowler
Coloured by Tamra Bonvillain
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Jonny Stone is a Glaswegian writer who loves comic books, live music and was THIS close to doing a dissertation on Storm’s hair.