Bilford Bogin! That was one seriously intense issue of Rat Queens! So much happened that I feel a lot like a Smidgen at an orgy: unsure of where to begin. So in order to help lubricate the process I’m going to pour myself a tall ‘Betty’, dig deep into my bag of candy/assorted Psilocybin and just let it all flow out… mmm… it’s delicious… The first panel is a stylistically ornate window into Hannah’s past. While attending Mage University we learn she stood before the Council of Nine, the University’s governing body, accused of using dark magic and conspiring with a Fiend (making a deal with a Devil). Those readers who have been following along in the series will recognize the familiar landscape, as it is the exact same spot where we first met Gerard (Hannah’s father) back in issue #11 (don’t you love it when everything comes full circle!?).
Flash forward to present day and we find the Queens sitting with Dee’s brother Senoa (or is it him?) listening to Hannah as she recounts the deal she made with her demon all those year ago. After hearing the truth about Hannah’s time at Mage U, Betty is finally able to confirm her suspicions of Hannah using black magic from their battle in the Palisade (issue #5). Stricken by her own surmounting feelings of guilt, Betty confesses to the group how she knew about Hannah using dark magic to help aide them in their quest. This causes an eruption within the group and leaves Hannah feeling alone, ostracized but most importantly angry. She storms off brooding and when she returns she is not the Hannah the Queens remember. Her eyes are dark, her hair is gone and on her head are two sharp and pointed horns. Hannah reveals that she intends to storm the Council of Nine, rescue her captive father, and clear her family name. Then suddenly, as if appearing out of thin air (or were they summoned?) the Council guards appear and ambush the Queens. They try in vain to withstand the attack but in the end it is no use and they are forced to submit. Hannah is taken to a Void prison (a sort of inter-dimensional limbo) and after three months of solitude she receives a visit from the demon Fiend, only this time Hannah is the one doing the propositioning... Will the Queens be able to rescue Hannah or will her soul become forever lost to darkness?
Pretty intense cliff hanger, eh? Alright, getting away from the plot for a moment I want to discuss the excellent use of artistic foreshadowing in two key moments: the cover for this month’s issue and ‘Hannah’s Reflection.’ Stjepan Sejic’s most recent cover displays a battered shield bearing the crest of the Rat Queens; the heart at its center lies broken. A shield is a warrior’s last line of defense, if it breaks then all is lost. Displaying the Queens on a shield might be Seijic’s way of saying that Palisade has lost its protectors? Or since the shield splinters outward perhaps the intended message is rather it’s the tiny fractures within the group, not an outward assault from a foe that will inevitably lead to the Rat Queens undoing?
‘Hannah’s Reflection’ is the name I have given to what may be Tessa Fowler’s greatest artistic contribution to the series. I mean EVER. Near the end of the issue there is this incredibly honest moment where Hannah is walking from room to room, shedding her clothes as she goes; almost as if she is peeling off layers of herself with each falling article. She comes to a stop in front a full body mirror, surveying her naked body as if for the first time and she is absolutely beautiful. Her hair is let down to expose her horns and the effect is nothing short of sinister (yet so seductive that Adam would have ate an orchard). She’s smiling but she’s not happy, her eyes are foccussed but not kind. This is the moment where Hannah becomes reborn in the flames. Where she embraces her darkness and willingly sets upon her path of self-destruction. It's a perfect juxtaposition and a stunning portrayal of the paradoxes of beauty.
Above all else this issue was a truly transformative moment for Hannah. The driving force behind this change was her anger and I would like to take a moment to comment on how anger as a motivator, both good and bad, is a recurring thematic element we see again and again in Rat Queens. Up until this current arc Hannah’s anger has always aided her. It made her stronger and able to carry out what needed to be done. Now it is her greatest hindrance. It's causing her to not only doubt herself but also those closest to her. Anger is a funny thing that way: properly harnessed, it can be a motivator allowing us to keep going when the outcome seems dire; a reason to hang on in the absence of hope. Unchecked it becomes our greatest downfall, poisoning not only our minds but our hearts as well. If we aren’t careful, the tinder stoking its glowing embers can explode into a roaring wildfire - consuming everything and everyone it touches. It can make us blind; it can render us deaf to all surroundings. It can feed on every last piece of happiness we possess until we have but one remaining purpose in life: revenge. This is the path Hannah seems to be walking and for the first time I think readers are afraid of how far off the deep-end of the morality pool she can/will venture.
I guess that brings us to a close! If you couldn’t tell this was one of my favourite issues of Rat Queens since the departure of Roc Upchurch. Both the art and story have been pushed to another level and I can’t wait to see what happens with the beginning of the fourth arc. What will happen to Hannah? Who is Petunia Harvestchild? I hate to have to wait but I am excited to find out - the Queens are Kings once again!
Rat Queens #15 Writer: Kurtis J. Wiebe Artist: Tess Fowler Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 3/16/16 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital