Darrow, Geof, writer and artist. Shaolin Cowboy #1. Dark Horse, 2013.
Wiebe, Kurtis J, writer; Upchurch, Roc, Artist. Rat Queens #1. Image, 2013.
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen we were kids, we didn’t read comics to learn stuff – we read comics not to learn stuff. Comics were read in protestation of book reports, containing a world we could readily inhabit without having to dissect down to subatomic levels, drilling for a meaning the author probably never intended. Being force-fed literature taught us the need for comics, if only as a prophylactic against growing up one of those overstarched, snobby types who don’t ever seem to enjoy anything that doesn’t allow them to put on airs. Sure, you could read nothing but scholarly literature – and you could eat nothing but home-grown, unprocessed produce – but you’re not going to because that would be painfully boring. Aas evidenced by the fact that you are reading this, you are anything but boring. People like you and me don’t let our enjoyment of healthy food impede our appreciation of chocolate cake or our love for literature snob away our adoration of comics.
Shaolin Cowboy is the best kind of chocolate cake. Layered and detailed, but you can scarf it down without really paying attention to it and it will still be delicious. You can take it completely at face value (Post-apocalyptic Shaolin monk gets all John Wayne and fights zombies with a double-headed chainsaw staff) and it is mind-blowingly fantastic. I suggest you do that for your first read. Swallow it in one gulp. Then go back and re-read it, looking for all the little, clever details in Geof Darrow’s artwork that add an incredible amount of depth to the story.
Skip the intro – seriously, don’t even bother with that garbage. It’s packed with so many terrible puns that I started to suspect that one of my dads had a hand in writing it, and it really isn’t relevant to anything. What do you really need to know about the backstory? It’s a post-apocalyptic world, which should be obvious from, you know, the zombies. Everything you need to know about the main character is summed up in the title. If you haven’t read the original Shaolin Cowboy comics, go do that – not because you need to have read them to understand this one (If you need an explanation as to why you should think a dude fighting zombies with a double-headed chainsaw staff is awesome, Shaolin Cowboy probably isn’t for you), but because they’re great.
I was cautiously intrigued to read Rat Queens. Billed as Dungeons and Dragons-meets-Tank Girl, it made me instantly suspicious, especially because its team consists of two dudes. Don’t get me wrong – I like dudes, and there are at least five dudes in comics today whose abilities I would trust implicitly to make this comic and have it not be a trainwreck of tired stereotypes and hot ladies for lonely male D&D players to fawn over.
If you’ve ever been a lady and tried to get in on a game of D&D with a bunch of dudes, you don’t know all that well, say at a convention or games store – or even if you’ve been in close proximity to a spot where D&D was being played by a bunch of dudes and expressed even a passing interest in what was going on – you’ll understand my trepidation about this comic. If you haven’t, imagine being an octopus and going to a fancy dinner party and you’ll have a pretty close idea.
Really, it was the comparison to Tank Girl that sold me on it. Other pre-teens wanted to be – honestly, I don’t even know who because I was too busy not giving a crap about what other girls wanted because they were all stupid stupids. If I agreed with them, then I’d have to give up my whole “No one understands me” shtick and stop writing depressing poetry. Anyway, I wanted to be Tank Girl (and Lily Munster and Elvira and possibly Morticia Addams, but only if it came with being married to Raul Julia). The movie with Lori Petty (whom I developed kind of an enormous crush on after watching it) marked the first time I’d ever seen a female action hero in film. It was a big deal for my young and impressionable mind. I was loud, crude and terminally awkward – I didn’t stand a chance of being a femme fatale or damsel in distress. I tended to react with lethal amounts of sarcasm if anyone ever made the mistake of trying to be all heroic at me, even if I clearly and admittedly needed some heroics. Tank Girl was a comic – and then a movie – that assured me that there was still a place for me, not despite my snarky demeanor but because of it.
The neat thing about Rat Queens is that its band of female adventurers isn’t rare in their universe. It’s not weird or new or even a thing at all that there’s a bunch of lady mercenaries running around – in fact, there are other lady mercenaries in the story. I can’t emphasize how awesome this is.
Another thing they did very right was making their characters the stereotypes of their roles in exactly the way they would be if they were dudes. They’re idiotic sometimes, and they’re loudmouthed and get themselves in trouble because that’s what D&D characters do. It’s also what ladies do, or at least, it’s what I do. No one is weak or in need of a saviour because who would play a D&D character like that?
The art is absolutely gorgeous and the story is full to the brim with adorably nerdy references. The Tank Girl comparison is spot on – Rat Queens is punk rock D&D women kicking ass and taking names, and it is fantastic. I think I’m going to put Kurtis J Wiebe and Roc Upchurch on my list of guys I’d trust to make this kind of a comic. I wish there were more comics like it because I know that somewhere, there is at least one (but probably more like five hundred thousand) awkward, loudmouthed, sarcastic preteen like I once was who is reading it with the hugest sigh of relief because finally, finally, she can read about a hero who is accessible to her.