Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Comic Review: Queen and Country Vols. 3 & 4

Queen & Country Vol. 3: Hot on the heels of my earlier experience with Greg Rucka's Queen & Country books, I decided I'd dive in again for the rest of the story.

Again, I was treated to much of the same highs and lows that were associated with the earlier volumes of this material.  This third volume, which wraps up Tara Chace's story has all the hallmarks of the Queen & Country series. First and foremost among those hallmarks: Greg Rucka's writing is quality. His spy stories are not only incredibly engrossing, but they also pack a very realistic feel, and strike a fine balance between political agendas and personal loyalties.  Also, just like my earlier experiences, the art was hit or miss for me.

In the third volume, things were more hit than miss for me on the art front, as Steve Rolston, probably my favorite artist from the series, was back dealing out some high quality art, and Chris Samnee, who I enjoyed on the Rocketeer Cargo of Doom story, handled some of the art as well.  Both those guys delivered some fantastic art, and helped raise the quality of this volume.

However, I was surprised to find myself frustrated with Rucka's writing.  At the start of the second story arc, Operation: Red Panda the narrative drops the reader down into the middle of events, and it soon becomes very clear that there's been a very major plot development that has gone down.  However, that major plot development is never explored, nor fully explained. Not only did I find this extremely confusing and frustrating, but I was pretty upset with this development, as I felt like I'd been cheated out of a huge piece of the story.

This whole ordeal seemed very out of character for Rucka's writing; He's typically a writer that is very good at tying everything together and buttoning up loose ends.  So much out of character that I blamed myself for missing something.

Well it turns out I did miss something.  An entire prose novel.

Between Operation: Saddlebag and Operation: Red Panda, there was apparently an entire prose novel titled A Gentleman's Game.  I can only assume that the major plot events I missed out on occurred in the pages of that book.  As a comics reader, I'm not so sure how I feel about that.  It's frustrating that the whole story isn't told within the medium in which it was started, and it's also frustrating that even if I wanted to read A Gentleman's Game, by reading this comic, much of that book is already spoiled, thus taking away form that experience, so there's no really good way to get closure.

This also brings up a discussion; that of comics being the destination, not a vehicle to other more well respected mediums, that I don't want to get into.  Suffice it to say that the switching of mediums, and subsequent major plot gap did a lot to take away from my Queen & Country experience.

Queen & Country Vol. 4: This fourth and final volume of the Queen & Country series collects the Declassified story arcs.  Each story reveals the past of one of the characters from the Queen & Country series.

Hardcore fans of the series will likely find this material quite interesting, as it gives backgrounds for Paul Crocker and Tom Wallace, two of the key characters from the series. For me, after the empty feeling I was left with from the previous volume, found that I didn't care about this material as much as I could have.

The stories here are pretty good, the first two in particular were pretty solid, and it was nice to have Brian Hurtt, one of my favorite comic artists, back at work on some Queen & Country material.  That being said, I wasn't a fan of the final story, which also happened to the first Queen & Country story written by someone other than Greg Rucka.  For this one Anthony Johnston did the writing and Christopher Mitten was on art, and the shift in quality was noticeable.

Overall, I found that I didn't enjoy this final volume as much as I did the previous Queen & Country material.  That being said, I'd say this is a strong comic series, but would recommend that any perspective reader gets the novel, A Gentleman's Game, and reads it at the appropriate time so as to get the full story effect.  Regardless, Queen & Country is a very good spy story, and if that's your thing, then you can't go too far wrong here.  Be prepared for strong writing, great characters, and inconsistent art.

Overall Series Grade: B

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