Saturday, June 14, 2008

Queen and Country – Definitive Edition Volume 2 – A Review

Queen and Country – Definitive Edition Volume 2
Publisher Oni Press
Writer Greg Rucka
Art : Operation: Blackwall - Jason Shawn Alexander
Operation: Stormfront – Carla Speed McNeil
Operation: Dandelion – Mike Hawthorne

Jim: I love “discovering” material like this that everyone has been raving about for years. Even though I set myself up as a critic of comics I recognize that entertainment can be “critically acclaimed” and bore me to tears, not so with Queen and Country. This book is the real deal and meets the definition of a graphic novel perfectly. It is a novel about Tara Chace and her life as a field agent (Minder) for the British Secret Intelligence Service (a counter part to the CIA.)

What Greg has done is carved out very real people and given them a consistent set of characteristics. It feels like he created a set of character sheets for each person and then placed them inside of a story and let them react. When a reader knows how the character will react to a given situation then you know that the writer has made them real.

I have always felt that some writers cast characters into their play and they are going to tell whatever story they want regardless and whether it fits that character or not. Civil War is a recent example that comes to mind for me, where Millar had a story to tell and cast certain Marvel characters into roles he needed them to play and to hell with internal logic or consistency. Granted Queen and Country is a creator owned book, but I really feel like Greg is not using these characters to tell his stories anymore, the stories are theirs to tell and it is almost as if he is chronicling Tara’s life.

Tara and her fellow spies are all very real and have depth, flaws, good points, strengths, weaknesses; they are human, like you and I, just in an extraordinary job. The individual stories told in this volume let us get to know who each of these characters are as well as tell some compelling and interesting spy stories.

Operation: Blackwell is the first story. I have been raving about Jason Shawn Alexander’s work in Abe Sapien and this is some of his earlier work which is not as strong, but it is still very good. Jason’s work is very heavy on the blacks and often is obscuring more of the character then I feel the setting called for, but it has a good gritty feel to it.

The story itself involves Tara having to use an old friend to obtain some information which in turn is to save her friend’s father from being blackmailed. Also we get the story about Tara ending her relationship with her fellow agent Edward. Edward has fallen in love with Tara, while she is using Edward. Tom (another agent) is the one who forces her to end it. While she knows it is the right thing to do so also can tell she is hurting Edward and herself at the same time. Tara also manipulates her friend to gather the information needed. At the end her friend comes to cry on her shoulder about what had happened and Tara has to console her knowing her role in the entire thing. The feeling I get from this story, is that this job is slowly eating away at Tara’s soul.

Operation: Stormfront is drawn by Carla Speed McNeil. I had try to read the first trade of Finder (who artist/writer work), which some “big names” had raved about, but I found the story to be unreadable. Still her art is solid. It conveys the story well and conveys the character’s emotions well. It will not make you stop and buy the book for just the art, but it is very solid.

The actual story had many different elements to it. First off Edward Kittering dies, one of the three field agents called Minders. From all facts it appears he died of an aneurysm and not due to any bad guys. Tara and Tom (the senior Minder) have their doubts. Still a new minder is recruited and ends up with Tara going overseas on what should be a simple mission. The newest minder gets killed while with Tara. Tara is captured and we see her at her most ruthless escaping from her captors and in her completing her mission.

Operation: Dandelion is drawn by Mike Hawthorne. Mike has a more angular style with clean line work. Again Mike is a competent artist who does a fine job with layouts and page design. Mike does a great job of making it dark and moody when needed and keeping it light and bright when needed. In some ways Mike’s art may have been the best fit for this book, but I still think Alexander is the best artist.

The actual story is about many things. It involves Tara and Tom going on a bender over the death of Kittering, high political intrigue involving Tara’s boss and what he is doing to survive as his new boss hates his guts. The actual mission is about spying on an African national who is part of an opposition party in an African nation that the British still have interest in. The amount of manipulation and political maneuvering going on in this issue is fantastic, an intricate plot that makes sense and pay offs.

My brief summaries of the stories do not give enough credit to Greg’s stories that weave so much about these characters, while dealing out spy thriller stories, political intrigue and office politics and the impact of doing this work and what it does to the agents.

Perhaps my only issue with the series is the fact that each mission has had a new artist and each artist is allowed the ability to redesign each and every character. It really throws you off in trying to identify and remember who is who as from story to story as the characters can look totally different. The only time I was really put off by this was the last story of Volume 1, as the artist made Tara into a blonde bombshell and she was never that before or after.

The actual format of the book is great as it is 6” x 9” and very portable and fits in your hand easily. It makes for a great read in a chair, the back deck, the bed or anywhere.

This is a superbly written book. As you read it you come to care about these characters like they are your friends. These characters are as real and human as any I have read or seen in prose or graphic novels and stories that make it hard to put the book down until you have completed the current operation.


Gwen: Jim's been sending me these books when he finishes them and I'm grateful for it. I've really enjoyed following Tara's life as Minder two. This is a good spy novel but it's also just plain old good storytelling. I do agree with Jim on the art thing though - I don't mind different artists but it's seriously hard to keep track of who's who when each artist seems to have such a radically different approach on all of the characters.

Operation: Blackwell was a good character building story for Tara. I disagree with Jim's take on this story though as the end result protected her friend (Rachel) as well as her friend's father. As much as Rachel had fallen in love with the man Tara helped bring down that man had betrayed Rachel. I felt bad for Rachel but she had already been SOL by the time Tara came onto the scene and at least Tara saved her from public humiliation. The art on this story was well done and it was easy enough for me to figure out who was who.

Operation: Stormfront was a harsh story. The art was so/so, I wasn't terribly impressed for the most part. The things Tara has to do to complete her mission make you wonder what you'd be capable of doing given a 'just' cause. At this point I'm wondering how long Tara can keep herself together on this job. Well written, this op really makes the reader think.

Operation: Dandelion had my favorite art of this volume. I also enjoyed Tom and Tara's drunken binge. Especially priceless was the scene where Tom breaks into a liquor store window and they leave all there money behind for 'repairs'. Tara wakes up in the morning and can't remember what happened to all her money.
The actual op here was interesting as well. You actually find yourself feeling a bit sorry for the guy Tara's 'getting close to' as he seems to genuinely like her and we all know she's just trying to find out what he's up to. Then you find he's actually trying to play the British gov't and cease to feel sorry for him. This story was masterfully played out.

I really like the Queen and Country stories and am glad to have had the chance to read them.

Grade A

No comments:

Post a Comment