‘RiGBY the Barbarian’ Webcomic Casts a Wisecracking Archaeologist as the Chosen One
With the exception of Buffy Summers, messianic warriors fated to vanquish evil tend to be male: Harry Potter, Neo and Philip J. Fry each have destiny and a Y-chromosome on their side. If the female chosen one still plays as a subversion on 21st-Century TV sets, then imagine how a patriarchal, medieval-esque society would feel if a woman came trotting into their camp waving their culture’s very own version of Excalibur. Even worse, imagine if that woman was a sharp-tongued gal from our neck of reality, who wears pants, cracks wise and is obsessed with dinosaurs. In Lee Leslie’s webcomic RiGBY the Barbarian, an archaeology student finds herself mystically transported to a land she’s fated to defend from an evil wizard, much to the shock of the people she’s supposed to save.At the beginning of the comic, Rigby is still in the modern world, but she’s already quite frustrated men. She’s out on an archaeological dig, but her professor leaves all the Indiana Jones work to the boys, while she’s stuck doing all the paperwork. When she decides to do a little extra-curricular exploration, she stumbles across a very dead king and a very large sword. But as soon she touches the blade, she’s sent to an alternate universe, one where dead warriors walk and everyone rides around on dinosaurs.
Wielding that big sword means that Rigby is the only one who can defeat the Fate-Maker, an immortal wizard who rules over all the known world. Not only is she stuck leading an army against the Fate-Maker, it’s an army that doesn’t get her jokes.
RiGBY could have been a one-dimensional screed, with the macho medieval villagers rejecting their new woman warrior, only to have Rigby constantly show them up. And there are moments when the comic could swerve in that direction. Rigby does meet a male rival for her sword, and its magic ensures that he’s no match for her destiny. And, in superhero fashion, Rigby can’t resist cracking a cheesy joke, even when it’s inappropriate for the emotional weight of the situation. Rigby’s attitude sometimes borders on snide, and she falls into, rather than earns, her newfound superpowers. That’s a dangerous combination for someone you’re supposed to root for.
Fortunately, Leslie avoids turning this into some worn-out conflict between the smart modern woman and the patriarchal male savages. While not everyone is terribly thrilled that the magical sword has chosen a woman as its bearer, it turns out that the villagers’ issues with Rigby go beyond her secondary sexual characteristics. That magical sword may make Rigby a magical swordswoman, but it doesn’t also turn her into a smart warrior. After all, she’s an academic, not a knight. Plus, their king understands that, when you don’t get the messiah you want, you have to make do with the messiah that you have. And Rigby, for her part, manages to muster enough charisma to win over his mead hall. Leslie moves us swiftly through the lady-gaining-acceptance-among-the-he-men stage so we can get down to some actual adventuring.
Where Leslie does play with gender, it’s in smaller ways. Rigby may be a newly badass archaeologist, but she’s no Lara Croft, and she doesn’t dress like her, either. In fact, Rigby’s alternate universe wardrobe is so modest that she’s a tad miffed. And just because she’s a woman, that doesn’t mean she can’t have incredible chemistry with Fiona, the king’s beautiful daughter, who just happens to be approaching marriageable age. Rigby may have a barbed tongue and a John Carter-worthy nonchalance about her mysterious transdimensional kidnapping, but she is otherwise no better and no worse than any male adventurer — and perhaps no less likely to romance beautiful young women. I just hope her archaeological skills get put to better use than having her merely moon over dinosaurs. (Although, if I’m being honest, mooning over dinosaurs is precisely what I would do in her situation.)
She does, however, face some distinctly feminine challenges. RiGBY the Barbaian is about to finish its second chapter, but in the opening of the third chapter — as you can see in the preview Leslie has kindly shared with us below — she deals with a rather intimate female problem. Thank you, Lee Leslie, for finally addressing an issue I have always wondered about whenever a modern lady is suddenly transported back in time, to an alien planet or to a mystical land. Leslie’s fantasy land is a bit of a conventional swords and sorcery mashup, with a bit of Scottish tartan and a few lizard people thrown in for good measure. But this scene promises that the comic is less about the fantastical elements of the RiGBY universe than how those fantastical elements pair with the familiar and mundane. Rigby may be ready to ride dinosaurs and fight evil wizards, but doing it while contending with pseudo-medieval feminine hygiene products is nothing short of heroic.