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Sunday, 7 March 2010

Queen & Country definitive edition volume 1

Written by Greg Rucka
Pencil art by Steve Rolston, Brian Hurrt, Leandro Fernandez
Inks by Steve Rolston, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Christine Norrie, Leandro Fernandez
Publisher: Oni Press

What’s It About?
Tara Chase is Minder Two, one of three Minder operatives employed by the British overseas intelligence service MI-6. Queen & Country is a procedural spy drama, exploring not only the operations of Tara and her fellow Minders abroad but also the politics of MI-6 at home.

What’s Good About It?
Greg Rucka takes the procedural approach to writing Queen & Country. If you’ve ever seen an episode of American police drama Law And Order you’ll be familiar with the form which stresses accuracy of action and procedure as much as the drama of the action.

The political aspects of the spy drama are at the forefront of this series. Rucka isn’t writing an adventure series, each mission the Minders undertake is shown to have a specific, often political, purpose. Equal time is given to Tara and co out on the mission and department head Paul Crocker back at headquarters. Crocker’s relationships with his immediate superior Donald Weldon and his CIA counterpart Angela Chang are particularly important with both of them being in equal measure a help and a hindrance to Crocker’s operations.

This isn’t to say the series is all talk, there’s certainly enough action to go around. What it does mean is that actions have consequences: for instance, after a particularly harrowing mission Tara is excluded from the unit’s next operation on medical grounds pending a psychological evaluation; as a CIA officer, Chang’s help is contingent on American interests and so on.

The series is a fun and though-provoking mix of high action and politics.

Its also a pleasingly chunky book, weighing in at over 350 pages, containing three complete graphic novels and an extensive sketchbook section. Value for money is certainly a selling point.

What’s the Art Like?
Firstly, please forgive the obscene amount of fade-and-curl in these scans, it is a very thick book not really designed for scanning. Each of the three stories in this collection has its own art team. All three work in unshaded black and white.

Steve Rolston draws Operation: Broken Ground in a mostly realistic style. His figures are a little chunky, his facial expressions a little exaggerated but that’s all too the benefit of his visual storytelling. You’ll notice from the backgrounds of the example above that Rolston crams a great deal of fine detail into his panels. If his figures and faces were treated the same way they might come across as reduced and too indistinct.
Brian Hurrt draws Operation: Morningstar with inks by Bryan Lee O’Malley and Christine Norrie. His work shares a lot of qualities with Rolston’s, not least of which is the minute detail lavished on backgrounds and props. The main difference between the two is that Hurrt uses softer, sketchier lines which gives his work something of an edge in conveying expression and emotion.
Leandro Fernandez draws Operation: Crystal Ball. Fernandez’s style is more cartoonish and exaggerated than the other artists’, observe the chin he gives Crocker in the third panel. It does clash somewhat with the previous two art styles but is by no means bad. However, it does bring us to this collection’s one major drawback and our final section…

What’s Bad About It?
The main problem is in the differing art styles. Whilst each “Operation” has a cast page at the start with names and pictures lined up nicely for your convenience, it can still be confusing sometimes telling who is who. The heights, weights and proportions of characters vary widely between artists, not just of background characters but of the principals, including Tara whose figure undergoes some extreme transformations over the course of this collection.

There are a lot of scenes of smoking, of sex and nudity and uncensored swearing. This is most certainly not a comic for young readers.

Other Information
Queen & Country Definitive Edition volume 1 (ISBN 978-1-932664-87-4) retails at roughly £14.99. Amazon page here. It collects the first four story arcs of the series, Operations Broken Ground, Morningstar and Crystal Ball. It is the first of four volumes collecting the entire run of the series.

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