Published on January 14th, 2015 | by Lauren McPhee0
Rat Queens Special: Braga #1 (One-Shot) – Review
Rat Queens: Braga #1 is a comic to be excited about even before you open the cover. First of all, those readers familiar with Rat Queens will recognise Braga as the towering, powerful, determined and yet loveable orc from the Peaches adventurer group. Although rivals to the Rat Queens, Braga is still shown to have the Rat Queens’ backs in protecting Palisade as well as being a source of violent joy and humour. Moreover, she represents a very non-typical female character in both her behaviour and appearance, even more so than the Rat Queens themselves. And the cover for Rat Queens: Braga #1 does her justice as we see Braga enthroned upon a pile of skulls and bones, adorned in armoured jewellery and resting upon an axe. Her sexuality is also something that is emphasised but not in any way that would be exploitative, rather it is presented as an important facet of her character and once we open the comic, it becomes obvious very quickly as to why.
It’s the morning after the orc raid on Palisade and Braga has prepared coffee for two, sparingly dressed in a loose dressing gown and slippers. Her “guest” is intrigued and has questions, understandably since Braga was fighting against her own people the night before, except the intrigue is more with Braga herself. What follows is the story of Braga’s divorce from her people and a culture to which she never felt she belonged, and the source of her regret that they couldn’t have been more understanding. It seems fairly straightforward and in many ways it is, only the excavation into Braga’s identity runs much deeper as she begins her recount under a different name, Broog.
From these establishing shots, it’s clear that Broog is a powerful leader of an army of orcs, fierce and terrifying in battle, dominating through force and strategy. Broog delivers gruesome axe blows as the art depicts the battle carnage, faces screaming in terror as they are struck down. From the mass of warriors on the battlefield, Broog stands in triumph. So far, nothing that we wouldn’t also expect of Braga so despite the name change and the appearance of a masculine gender, it’s clear that we are dealing with the same person here. Moreover, Broog expresses issues with orcish culture, thousand year old traditions that are long past having any merit if ever they did. So, what we have here in fact is the story of Broog’s refusal to follow tradition when tradition is followed out of ritual even when it would be easier and make more sense to abandon it. It’s also a story about being true to oneself.
From the very beginning of the issue Braga/Broog is established as a transgendered character. We know Braga to identify as female but this isn’t a story about transition. Rather, a lot of the story suggests that Broog already identifies as gender-queer, including the suggestion of a homosexual relationship with Kurik, Broog’s best friend. Rather, the larger issue is the rigidity of cultures, and especially the rigidity of parents who refuse to be open to change and greater acceptance. The tribe continues unnecessarily with its feud against the Rockbreakers and rather than allow Broog, as the eldest child, to be passed over as chief, their father would see older and younger brother battle it out and the younger usurp the position even when it is given freely. It’s a powerful story that lends itself to the experiences of many, including and especially those who are transgender, but without labouring on overwrought tropes. The defining factor of Braga is not that she is transgender but that she battled through experiences that then drove her to explore and discover her true identity beyond the expectations and resentments of her family.
As such, this is a very emotive comic and Fowler’s art really brings emotion and feeling to the fore. The expressiveness of the characters comes across whether they are dying on the battlefield, sharing a quiet moment or being overcome by anger and grief. A smile can really dominate a panel in this comic, just as the simple lack of one create stirrings of empathy. The body is also prominent in the artwork and Fowler does an amazing job at of endowing characters with speed and strength, presence and defiance, confidence and then uncertainty. The colours flow with the changes of attitude, blood red on the battlefield to oppressing dull green as Broog confronts his father, to the softer, brighter colours of Broog’s realisations and desires for a more hopeful future. However, this is still Braga and at no point do the colours reach the kind of brightness and frivolity of the Rat Queens; rather the whole comic is laden with a weight of regretful memory and the unidealism of truth. Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few jokes to be had. In all, this special is not an aside because it is wholly dedicated to one character; rather, it is a deeper look into the Rat Queen’s world and in particular a look at one character’s place in it. And for that reason it exceeds above and beyond acting as a filler one shot to an already brilliant series, but by its inclusion, actively makes that series even better.