Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Put the Sexy Back in Large Wholesale Slaughter!

Kurtis Wiebe & Roc Upchurch “Rat Queens Vol 1:  Sass & Sorcery” (Image, 2014)

I’ve had a hard time writing some thoughts about this book.  Every time I sit down & start to write, I decide that I really need to reread the book!  Thinking about it makes me want to put myself back in that world!

Not that I *really* want to be in the world of the Rat Queens.  The story takes place in & around the town of Palisade.  Palisade is the small town on the edge of adventure.  Sure there are shopkeepers, bar maids, and other normal townfolk.  But it’s also the place where parties of adventurers hang out.  They get missions there, and drink and brawl when they’re not questing.   If you’ve ever played D&D (or practically any similar RPG) you KNOW this town.

The Rat Queens are just one of several bands of adventurers in Palisade.  There’s Hannah the Elven mage, Violet the Dwarven warrior (she shaved her beard before it was cool), Dee the human cleric (she’s running away from a family of Lovecraftian cultists), and Betty the Smidgen thief (who loves her psychedelics).  

The various bands of adventurers have pissed off too many people in Palisade with their drunken brawling and antics.  If they don’t complete a few low level quests, then they will not be welcome in the city any longer.  Of course these quests lead to a larger story….

Kurtis Wiebe jumps into the RPG sandbox and immediately starts playing with all the toys.  Everything is both simultaneously exactly what it is and yet totally not the normal version of that at all.  It’s a madhouse created by drunken teenage D&D players.  And it is so much fun!

Roc Upchurch’s art is an excellent fit.  His work here reminds me in some ways of the old Elfquest books.  There’s an underlying cuteness to this world that acts as a counterpoint to the crazy violence and foul language.  Upchurch handles all of this well while still creating easily distinctive characters.

In short, The Rat Queens are awesome!  If you have an interest in fantasy, D&D, or just crazy comics they are well worth your time.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

May the Glory of Gaea Be With You

Tim Hanley “Wonder Woman Unbound” (Chicago Review Press, 2014)

Of all the Golden Age heroes, Wonder Woman may be the most difficult to get a handle on.  Superman is an aspirational character:  an alien who is better than us in every way.  Batman is more of an adolescent power fantasy:  a rich guy who trains really really hard in order to get revenge.  Wonder Woman is…. What exactly?  Her story seems to change at least once per decade.  Is she a goddess, a princess, or a human female?  Is she war like or conciliatory? And what’s up with that plane anyway?

Hanley’s Wonder Woman Unbound is a survey of the various iterations of the character.  He focuses on three primary periods:  the initial run by William Marston, the silver age run by Robert Kanigher, and the 70s time notable by its championing by Gloria Steinem among others.  Hanley does a great job of balancing the information presented.  There’s enough depth and new information that all but the most ardent fans of the character will learn something new, while not overwhelming the casual reader with minutiae.  

As a way of adding balance and counterpoint, Hanley periodically checks in on other female characters from the same era being discussed.  Lois Lane, Supergirl, or the women from Marvel comics all seem to be on par with or ahead of Wonder Woman.

Hanley has constructed a fantastic narrative of the history of this character.  While obviously a labor of love, he is not afraid to criticize when necessary.  This is no hagiography:  it’s a look at the Wonder Woman’s history warts and all.  Accessible enough for newcomers and yet informative and provocative for the hardcore fan, Wonder Woman Unbound has something for everyone interested in comics and their role in popular culture.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Another Problematic Second Book

Miles Cameron “The Fell Sword” (Orbit, 2014)

I thought that The Red Knight was a fantastic debut.   It gave us a rich unique fantasy world with complex characters and a story that was far from the “orphan farm boy is destined to greatness”.

The Fell Sword is the second book in the series (The Traitor Son Cycle, apparently).  It takes place just after the events of the earlier novel.  The Red Knight’s company has accepted a contract to the East, where the Emperor has been captured and the empire is in peril.  Or is it?  As they settle into this new land they discover that the situation is not as simple as it initially appeared.

The Fell Sword continues on with every character and storyline that were introduced in The Red Knight.  But don’t fear – a plethora of new characters, locations and details emerge.  Now this isn’t quite at George RR Martin levels of complexity and confusion, but with only two books under our belt, it’s certainly working on reaching those levels.  It’s not that the detail and scope are not warranted.  Clearly Cameron has a story to tell that is truly epic in scope.  The problem is that the pacing for this book is off.  It feels like the vast majority of this book is an introduction.  By the time that things seemed to start paying off and the book felt truly underway, it was 80% over.

On the whole I was disappointed in this volume of the series.  The first volume worked so well, perhaps because it felt like a small tight story within a larger epic struggle.  This volume feels a bit too saggy, with subplots that feel disconnected from the main thrust of the novel.  That being said, I’m still committed to the series, and hope that volume three is a bit tighter.