Advance Review: RAT QUEENS SPECIAL: BRAGA #1

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THE RAT QUEENS SPECIAL: BRAGA #1
Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Art by Tess Fowler, Kelly Fitzpatrick
Published by Image Comics

Release date: January 14, 2015

Recently the issues of the transgender community have taken center stage in both comics and current events. In comics, there was a debate about the handling of stereotypical representation of those who are transgender, through stories. In current events, the life changing pressures and issues faced by those who struggle with their family and identity took center stage in the suicide of Leelah Alcorn.

Leelah was a teen in Ohio who had been denied her gender identity by family and took to social media to automatically post her suicide note upon her death. These are but two very public events that the larger internet community have been given awareness. The number of other stories of violence against the trans community and suicide rates can be staggering to consider.

Enter, by happenstance timing, The Rat Queens Special: Braga #1. This is a one shot by Rat Queens ongoing writer, Kurtis J. Wiebe, and guest artist Tess Fowler. This book was moved up in schedule back in November, with Stjepan Sejic being brought aboard to create art which was originally supposed to be for the January issue. Focusing the story on “Braga The Bastard,” the prince who would have been orc chieftan, but instead became one of the fiercest women in the realm.

Let’s be clear, this book is not overtly about Braga’s gender. It’s a story of family duty, acceptance and the battle between those who want peace and those who war monger to show strength. The main debate centers on if war and fighting are necessary for a society to continue to be great.

At no point does Braga, then called Broog, debate over who she physically represents herself to the world or how she transformed. The family story deals with the brother who schemes against her and the father who keeps looking to her to follow in his footsteps.  It is because Wiebe and Fowler focus on family and duty, making Braga’s gender a non-discussion point that makes this book so important to launch a cultural discussion about representation in comics.

Fowler draws Braga as a sexual being at both the beginning and end of the book, while having a romantic interlude with one of the Daves. However, the sea of beige and tan in these scenes cause Braga to blend with the background, which makes all the colors feel more muted. This might be more due to the compressed nature of the review file copy that I read. However, for those looking for the brightly clear color images found in Fowler’s web-comic about Betty, be prepared for the darker, more mixed palette Fitzpatrick uses to sell the story.

Perhaps, purposefully, the art for Braga’s central flashback has more clarity. Highly detailed, bloody battle scenes and deeply emotional faces during discussion drive the story. It is unclear how much or what Dave knows of Braga’s history. It was a simple discussion between him and Braga that leads the story down her memory lane. What is not overt is if she is telling him this story or if she is simply remembering. However, the dialogue makes it appear she is more remembering instead of telling.

Occasionally, Fowler uses characters overlaying across panel gutters to help provide smoother transition giving the dialogue more impact. The decision between using night sky as panel gutter background and transitioning back and forth to black painted gutters causes some pages to feel very heavy and dark.

No matter what, it’s clear the decisions, even for paneling, were made to drive an emotional message. Especially with the absence of the regular group of Rat Queens, the traditional quips and snark are almost non-existent in this story. This opens the floor to show that another kind of story can exist in this same universe.

So many authors say, “to best represent GROUP A (be they women, African-Americans, LGBTQ, etc,) just write them as people.” This saying has been heralded and cast about as a go-to response. However, here readers are given an actual example of that being done.  Hot button issues, that could have been placed center stage and used as a selling point, are instead a peripheral factor.

Obviously, at some point in Braga’s life decisions were made. However, they are not the core of what shapes her… it’s the scars of familial tradition, derision and force that have turned her into a glorious warrior and pushed her to leave home. It’s a story that, no matter your gender or background, many can relate to. That is what more trans stories should have in them so that those, walking the same path as Leelah Alcorn, have representation to see that life can go on a be what they make of it, when surrounded by people who care about them.

The Verdict: 8.0/10

 

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