With the new “Marvel: Infinity War” trailer out this week, new seasons of superhero shows like “Agents of Shield,” “Runaways” and new episodes of “The Gifted,” I’m just trying to hide somewhere dark and deep where the Marvel Universe hasn’t pried its grubby little fingers yet. It’s not that I dislike Marvel; I just like to breathe the fresh air on occasion, so, let’s lead off with a suggestion from an entirely different angle.
“Rat Queens” (Image Comics) — Story by Kurtis J. Wiebe, art by Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Sejic, Tess Fowler and Owen Gieni
To quote Wiebe, “Rat Queens” is “‘Lord of the Rings’ meets ‘Bridesmaids.’” “Rat Queens” focuses on a town in a realm filled with monsters and other creatures. The town in question has many adventuring parties, each with catchy names. The problem is that these mercenaries, flush with the spoils of their quests, get drunk and party so much it causes a ruckus in the town.
The Rat Queens, one party of adventurers, are four foul-mouthed female mercenaries whose hobbies include doing drugs, having sex and killing monsters. Obviously, this isn’t a comic you should recommend to your mom — unless she’s into that sort of thing. The comic is less of a nod and more of a full-on salute to classic Dungeons & Dragons tropes while turning them on their heads. Some may see this as a flavor too strange, but rest assured, it is an amazing read. The dialogue and characters had me laughing out loud in the public library, and the story kept me hooked so that passing hours felt like minutes.
It’s worth it to mention that one of the artists, Roc Upchurch, was arrested for domestic abuse, and I do not support his actions in recommending this comic. “Rat Queens” has recently returned from a 2016 hiatus with a brand-new artist, Gieni, and the same solid storyline. I haven’t cracked into the new issues yet, but I guarantee the ladies of the Rat Queens will be just as fantastic. The art speaks for itself; with the duties passing between multiple artists, the quality never falters. Without any background exposition required, “Rat Queens” is a great one to pick up from the beginning without having to invest hours and hours into reading established universe material.
“Rat Queens” was awarded the 2015 Hugo Award for best graphic story among other accolades.
“Bone” Issues #21-27 (Cartoon Books [Self Published] & Image Comics) — By Jeff Smith (He did it all, folks.)
I can remember when the Scholastic Book Fair used to roll through my school, and everyone would be so amped up about it (by everyone I mean probably just me). I can remember one of the weird commercial/movies they showed advertised “Bone,” and I was pretty lukewarm to it, until my brother brought it home.
“Bone” focuses on the adventures of three cousins from Boneville — of course, get your giggles out now please — who get lost in the desert and stumble upon a different society than their own. Unable to find their way back, Fone Bone, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone make the best of their new lives and try to fit in, some more honestly than others. A threat lurks in the shadows as rat creatures within that world gain power and threaten the new home the Bones have found. Billed as more of a children’s comic, “Bone” still has one of the more riveting storylines that I have ever experienced in comics.
Dealing with all manners of interesting coming-of-age themes — from falling in unrequited love to the stresses of fitting into a new place where you are different and loving your relatives, even though you can’t choose your family. Starting off with a slow burn, “Bone” gets its laughs in while building the scene around the Bone cousins’ new home. Don’t let the target market fool you, though; “Bone” becomes much more serious as the stakes grow for all members of the Bone cousins.
I don’t know if ‘scary’ is the word I would use to describe the later issues, but ‘eerie’ would be appropriate. Especially for a younger audience, Smith holds nothing back in his storytelling, exploring what it means to find yourself and to find courage within. A wonderful story that portrays people as essentially good, the series is finished and could be read in a weekend.
This column has given plenty of suggestions as far as what to read, but now, where can you read them? Who are the big players in the comic industry? What genres do each publisher lean towards? All that and more in the next column. See you in two weeks, and happy reading.