Monday, July 11, 2016

Dungeons & Drag Queens by M.P. Johnson (#Bizarro, #Drag #EraserheadPress)

I will freely admit that I snatched up Dungeons & Drag Queens purely out of novelty appeal. It had a clever title, an interesting premise, and a great cover, but I really didn't know whether M.P. Johnson could sustain my interest. While I could definitely see the concept working as a short story, a novella seemed like he might be stretching things a bit thin.

Much to my surprise, this worked as both a clever bit of Bizarro fun and as a solid fantasy story. Yes, it's ridiculous and over-the-top, but the tongue-in-cheek parody is never allowed to eclipse the fact that there's a story to be told. In addition, while Johnson plays fast-and-loose with transgender taboos and drag stereotypes, his heroine is a fully-fleshed human being, complete with honest emotions and a significant back-story.

Sleazella LaRuse (gotta love that name) is a small town drag queen, as fierce as she is flamboyant, who is rudely stolen away from her home to become Queen of the fantasy realm Houmak - except, of course, she doesn't quite have the plumbing necessary to produce an heir. Cast aside and consigned to her doom, she quickly finds herself stripped of the 'image' of Sleazella, leaving only frightened, insecure, Todd McKinney in her wake. It's only through reasserting herself, rejecting Todd's past, and being true to the carefully created persona of Sleazella that she's able to rise above her situation and take on the medieval world in which she finds herself. Todd's past bubbles to the surface on more than one occasion, riding the memories of high school bullies and an abusive father, but it's Sleazella who proudly lives on.

As for the fantasy element, Dungeons & Drag Queens is really comprised of a series of quests or tasks, hearkening back to the tales of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and even early Michael Moorcock. It's a fun tale, and one that makes clever but careful use of the creative freedom allowed by the Bizarro genre. The wizard with the talking puppet and shadowy ventriloquist trailing behind is just the tip of the iceberg. There are slavwolves with multiple nipple-mouths; a race of Amazonian women who fornicate as they fight; the monstrous many-mouthed Uzularoum, who gleefully perpetuates the scam of his own beheading; a dragon overlord that just wants to be loved; and a crew of pacifist pirates who count being stabbed fourteen times just part of negotiation.

It really is a fun fantasy story that never forgets its Dungeons origins, while the Drag Queens element actually works better than you would likely expect, with Sleazella a legitimate heroine, and not just a running gag. The ending is a bit dark, but that's entirely in keeping with the Bizarro genre. If any of this sounds the least bit interesting, then given it a shot - you'll be surprised by how much fun it is.

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