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Includes Issues:Queen & Country 1-4; Oni Press Color Special 2001
Issue Dates:March – September 2001
Creators:
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This review is spoiler free! Skip To The Verdict? »

Queen & Country delves into the world of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), or M16 as it is commonly known, the world of international security and espionage.

Many people will know of the SIS because of James Bond or le Carrés novels. Despite both franchises dating back to more than 40 years, the SIS has only been officially acknowledged publicly for 17.

It is a world still shrouded in mystery.

My own in interest in the SIS stems from my father living in the same city as the GCHQ, which is very closely linked to the service. It’s the British equivalent of the NSA headquarters at Fort Meade (although it bares more resemblance to the Pentagon.)

As for Queen & Country, it represents American writer Greg Rucka’s idea of some of the inner workings of the SIS. This is the first collection in the series, containing the first four issues of the ongoing Oni series and a special short by Stan Sakai.

The story is centralised on the special operative Tara Chace. She is a minder, one of three deadly operatives put into play when there is a mess to clear up or when someone needs to be taken out of the picture.

This volume starts with the assassination of General Markovsky, a member of the Russian Mafia in war torn Kosovo. Following the assassination a price is put on Tara’s head and the M16 headquarters in London is targeted by a rocket attack.

Can the service protect Tara? And can they find who is responsible for the attack?

Greg Rucka delivers quality writing. From start to finish you are drawn in, wanting to know the answers to all the unknowns.

It feels like it captures the political nature of international security in a realistic manner. The characters are written perfectly, their internal quibbles helping to increase the feeling of the overwhelming bureaucracy in the service.

Espionage is a hard subject to write about due to secrecy of the inner workings of the service and Rucka does very well. An American writing believable British dialogue is also impressive.

The art is drawn by Steve Rolston (The Escapists), except for the small introductory story drawn by Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo).

Rolstons’s artwork is entirely done without the use of colours and features clean lines with little shading, vaguely similar to some of Brian Bolland’s work.

The artwork was heavily criticised when first released for being too cartoony. I would argue that Rolston’s work is very well done and is realistic enough.

However the work by Sakai is very cartoony and feels out of place alongside the rest of the artwork.

My main criticism of the book is that it has an ending.

This may sound bizarre to hear at first but I can explain my reasoning.

Being a huge fan of John le Carré’s works, I just never expect a satisfactory ending to any story involving a secret service; it’s in the nature of the genre to be inconclusive and I almost felt cheated when the story tied up.

On the whole, Queen & Country is one of the best comics produced by the smaller companies in a long time. Oni Press has done an admirable job publishing the individual issues and putting out these collections.

I would like to wrap this up with the blurb the SIS uses on its website:

“SIS works secretly overseas to make the UK safer and more prosperous. We obtain secret foreign intelligence to inform Government decisions. We disrupt terrorism and nuclear proliferation and our intelligence helps to prevent and resolve conflict.

“We work with our overseas agents, contacts and partner Services to shape developments and project the UK’s influence… The secrecy of our operations, and the identity of those who work with us, is our foremost principle…

“SIS is a modern organisation with sophisticated technology and a diverse workforce – all dedicated to protecting the UK and contributing to a more prosperous and peaceful world.”

In Tara Chace we trust.

Verdict:
On the whole very well written. The main artwork is of a good standard too. A comfortable 4 out of 5.

Essential Continuity:
Yes – this is where it all began for the series. You will be lost without the issues contained here.

Read first:
Maybe watch a JB film to get yourself in the mood for some secret service action. James Bond or Jason Bourne, whatever your preference.

Read next:
Move on the second volume of the series, Queen & Country Vol. 2: Operation: Morning Star. The series is also collected in larger “Definitive Edition” paperbacks.

Or if you fancy something written by someone who used to work in the SIS, try a John le Carré novel such as The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

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9 Comments Post New »

  1. avatar Steve M. wrote on at January 11, 2011 6:54 pm:

    Another recommendation if you like Q&C is the short-lived late 70′s British TV series “The Sandbaggers”, which Rucka based the book on. Some of Q&C is almost a direct lift from Sandbaggers. It’s focused on the Director of Operations more and isn’t as action-orientated, but it’s a quality show, though may be hard to find (luckily for me my local library had the DVD’s).

    [Reply]

    avatar Simon replied on January 11th, 2011 at 7:04 pm:

    I saw this mentioned a few times when checking a few things while writing the review; I shall try and hunt it down, thank you for the recommendation.

    [Reply]

  2. avatar DrColossus wrote on at January 11, 2011 9:29 pm:

    I would definitely suggest getting the definitive editions. They are a better deal and its nice to have more story right away rather than having to get the next volume of the regular trade. If you like Rucka at all, you’ll love this.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ryard replied on January 12th, 2011 at 12:53 am:

    Seconded. The Definitive editions are worth it. Was very surprised with how much I enjoyed this series. However…not sure how to put this…the series feels…incomplete. I know that there’s a prose novel in the middle there, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I know it’s not intended to be an ongoing narrative so much as vignettes…but the feeling there are gaps and too much untold stories doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe I just wish there were more dang books!

    [Reply]

    avatar Simon replied on January 12th, 2011 at 5:05 am:

    I know what you mean about the incompleteness of the series; I am okay with the gaps between stories as that is quiet normal in a lot of novels I read.
    My feeling of incompleteness comes from there being no real follow up to the final arc, I want to know what happens to SIS and Tara.

    [Reply]

  3. avatar Dirt55 wrote on at January 12, 2011 2:54 am:

    Nice to see a non-superhero trade and spies are always entertaining!

    [Reply]

    avatar Simon replied on January 12th, 2011 at 5:06 am:

    I am trying to avoid doing DC reviews if possible as I enjoy the freedom of genre variety if I stick to self-contained series, which are mostly non-superhero.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on January 12th, 2011 at 11:35 am:

    I’m really thankful for this. With me focusing on DC, that helps us get a good mix in at the blog.

    Now if only we can find someone with a similar obsession about marvel!

    [Reply]

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    [Reply]

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