The episode of Just Drawn that Way review can be found here
This week on Just Drawn that Way, we are reviewing Kurtis Wiebe’s Rat Queens.
Rat Queens is a story about four women adventurers. They go on adventures, take down monsters, and get rowdy when bored. It’s obviously inspired by role play games like Dungeons & Dragons and every medieval fantasy rpg out there that involves going on quests in a group.
Great. So what? There are lots of stories out there about questing and D&D-esque adventures. There are even ones that poke fun at it (Looking for Group, I’m looking at you). So seriously, why is Rat Queens special? (And it is. It really is.)
Aside from the fact that it is hilarious, with lots of good jokes at all forms of role play games, and the adventures are great, the way women are written in Rat Queens matters.
If you are still reading after that sentence, good for you! You’ve recognized that it’s okay if things are written about women, which a certain group of the population has issues with (see Lady Thor for an example). There are all sorts of properties being worked on more recently that focus on awesome portrayals of women (Batgirl, Ms Marvel, Gwenpool, Spider-Gwen, Lady Thor, Squirrel Girl, Unstoppable Wasl just to name a few of my favourites I’ve talked about on the show). But Rat Queens is different. Rat Queens goes where too often women are not done well: role play games and fantasy.
You’ve probably seen the “chicks in chainmail” standard. Otherwise known as the chainmail bikini. When you look at books, miniatures, art, video game characters, you get to see some seriously questionable portrayals of women. Yes, let me be clear, there are some wonderful exceptions to this, but there are also a lot of awful versions. Corsets with breasts popping out. Skirts slit all the way up. Chainmail bikinis. Thigh highs that have no place on a quest. These women are being made as sex symbols but they don’t look much like the actual women who would fight or be physically active or any of those sorts of things. Let’s be honest, swinging a sword is going to get you muscles. Armor is meant to protect you. And having having body parts exposed or at risk of falling out isn’t usually a good tactic in battle.
I don’t have a problem with pinup art, but only when it’s done as pinup art. This kind of thing… isn’t. It’s the traditional fantasy art and it isn’t exactly empowering to women. It’s also often pretty lazy. The bodies all look pretty much alike, lacking in range or personality.
Rat Queens doesn’t do that. We have four women who are all completely different. Hannah is a 1950s pinup. But it’s intentional. And she’s still more covered than most of the characters you’re going to see in a lot of fantasy art. Also, she wears pants. Way more practical. Violet is a dwarf with the appropriate proportions. She’s shorter, stocky, not particularly busty, and she’s muscular. She swings a sword. She is supposed to be! She wears comfortable clothes she can fight in, or armor that is again intended for fighting. And she grows a beard in the second volume because lady dwarves have beards. Betty is a smidgen, which is kinda like a kender in D&D. She’s tiny, with large, pointed ears, not super busty, larger hips, skinny legs and arms. And she’s covered in dresses or pants and tank tops and a cape, whatever is most appropriate for the activity (unless the activity is drinking or mushrooms, then her dress may be questionable). And Dee. The dark priestess/necromancer who is black, has an afro, and who has some serious curves. She still shows less of her body than most women in fantasy art. She has a split skirt, sort of, but it shows off her thick thighs which she does, at times, use to her advantage in strength. Think Serina Williams.
None of these ladies is the fantasy stereotype, wearing less than a bikini for no apparent reason when about to go get into trouble. Let’s be honest, it’s stupid to have women fighters running around in ⅓ the armor or less than a male would be. And women should have varied body types. Because that’s real life. So seeing that in Rat Queens is refreshing. It gives a realistic presentation that women can actually see themselves in (and that shows dudes the fact that a range of body types is awesome).
Now let’s talk about the actual story part of Rat Queens. We have an all-female adventuring group. When it comes to D&D or games based on that, you aren’t going to find much of that. There might be a woman. Maybe half the party. Or maybe the woman is the one in need of rescue. Or possibly the villain. But a group of women who are friends and out to kick some behind? Yeah, probably not. So here’s the first big change. The story is not about a woman who is the romantic interest. A couple of these ladies have romantic interests, but nobody is a prize to be won or a damsel in distress really. Rat Queens passes the Bechdel test with flying colours. And if you don’t know what that is, go look it up. It’s okay. I’ll wait.
Moreover, these women can and do kick behind. They get into trouble. A lot of trouble They drink. They do all the things traditional adventuring parties do. And they’re women. Trust me, those things don’t usually go together. Men can do that, but women?
These women being the main characters matters. They aren’t plot devices. They are fully fleshed out characters who are complex. Actually, that’s what the stories are about. Complex characters who are women. Nobody is used as a motivation for a male hero. That is seriously refreshing. There will be no fridging here. Even the NPCs are pretty fleshed out and interesting. There are no wives (or husbands) handed out as rewards or as a sign of progression through the game. There is a husband reveal but it’s also clear that it’s a complicated relationship and there are good reasons for the separation. Again, complex characters. It isn’t a case of someone went adventuring and left their wife (let’s be honest) at home to mind the children.
There’s been a stereotype for a long time that tabletop games and fantasy role play games were for guys. A bunch of dudes in the basement, rolling dice, having adventures and fantasizing about female elves or something. This isn’t the reality. This stuff can and should be for women too. But who wants to join in when it seems likely that their character is present to be a vamped up sex object, whether or not that fits the character? Who wants to play a game where the women are all plot devices or rewards or flat and boring characters? Rat Queens shows how to do women and adventure well. It shows that there is no excuse for shoving female characters into tired, old stereotypes. It shows Red Sonja isn’t the only woman who can kick butt, drink hard, fight harder, and have fun, but a chainmail bikini isn’t required. Women don’t have to be there to fuel a sexual fantasy just because it’s a fantasy setting.
With that, next week check out Legend of Korra, Turf Wars Vol 2..
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