This week in my Small Press Spotlight series I have a release from Oni Press called Queen & Country. This title was written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by many different artists over its lifespan, and was comprised by 32 issues released between 2001 and 2007.
My first experience with this title was while loitering at Portland, Oregon’s superb bookstore Powell’s Books on Burnside. While there, wasting time while my friends were at work, I grabbed The Definitive Edition, Vol. 1 and was quickly engulfed by this exceptional spy title. You will be too, for the reasons I talk about after the jump.
If you’re looking for James Bond style spy action, with gadgets, shoot outs and poker games infused with sex, you’ll want to stay away from Queen & Country. This is not that type of spy fiction. Greg Rucka claimed to be inspired by an old British ITV series called The Sandbaggers, and it subscribes to the theory that spies would likely rather be neither seen or heard (an attribute also prized by the Milford School). Also, rather than dismissing the bureaucracy and politics that they deal with so heavily, Rucka embraces it. It adds additional tension to the story, as you know that our favorite spies have enemies everywhere, even in their home office.
The central character of the story is Tara Chace. Chace is an operative of the Special Operations Section of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (formerly known as MI6), who are more frequently referred to within the story as the Minders. The Minders are the elite of the elite, only going on the most dangerous of missions and frequently having to go deep into war zones – we’re introduced to Chace as she carries out an unauthorized assassination of a former Russian general turned arms dealer. If you’re familiar with Rucka, you know one of his most unique gifts as a writer is to come up with exceptional female characters. Chace is one of his best, as she is a burnt-out and fed up spy dealing with living her life with a target on her back from both those who put a bounty on her head and her superiors. She’s a strong protagonist and in many ways the anti-Bond – she frequently makes her targets look well put together in contrast.
One of Rucka’s other incredible skills is his ability to develop his supporting cast so each and every scene is loaded with power and intensity even if it is just a conversation. Like the worlds of Gotham Central and Checkmate that followed, the Special Operations Section is a living, breathing environment, with every character having their own agenda and their own needs in play at all times. Many writers focus so much on the protagonists that they do not develop the supporting characters, but Rucka realizes the fault in this concept. Without a proper supporting staff, Chace wouldn’t be given much to work with to become the lead she could be. Rucka ably handles this in just the first arc. It’s especially important in a world like this too given the double and triple crossing that is the norm in the world of espionage.
This series’ artists changed from arc to arc and ranged in quality, but I can say this: whenever Steve Rolston was working on this title, it was exceptional. He uses a cartoonish and clean lined character models to contrast with very detailed background scenery. This technique is interesting in that it makes the world feel all the more real while making the characters seem almost more ambiguous in their intentions with the artistic style. I loved his work on Brian K. Vaughan’s The Escapists and his work here is just as great, if not better. Tim Sale provides the covers to the series, and his work is of a high standard as per usual – there really are not many more consistent artists on the market than him.Continued below
Other artists who contribute to this series include Bryan Lee O’Malley (!), Carla Speed McNeill, Mike Norton, and many, many more.
This is one of the more under read gems in my mind. I actually do not know anyone else who has read this title, and it is quite easy and inexpensive to pick up the whole series in just four editions. Queen & Country is a comic book of the finest quality, and one that should not be missed by any fan of espionage or comic books.
Purchase the first volume of Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition on Amazon for an incredible $13.57 here.