Book of the Month

Book of the Month – Queen & Country Definitive Editiion Vol. 1

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Avg Rating: 4.8
iFanboy Community Pick of the Week Percentage: 27.9%
 
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Size: pages
Price: 19.95

Anyone who came around iFanboy.com from 2001 to 2004 would be fully aware that Queen & Country is one of our favorite books of the last seven years. But that was only one or two people so this might be news to the rest of you.

The year 2000 was a really important year for me and for my comic book reading life. It was the first year that I really, and in earnest, began to avidly explore the world of comic books outside of the traditional superhero universes of DC and Marvel. 2000 spilled over into 2001 and out of that time period came my discovery of books like Powers and Transmetropolitan and most importantly, Queen & Country.

Queen & Country is from Greg Rucka, a writer whose work I love, starting with his run on Batman and Detective Comics which led to discovering Whiteout which then led to Queen & Country.

The book itself centers on the Special Operations Section of MI6, the British intelligence agency responsible for activities outside of Britain’s borders. The agents are known as Minders and the focus of the story is Tara Chace, designated Minder Two. The job of a Minder runs the gamut from smuggling information out of a foreign country to out right assassination of foreign nationals. All of it dangerous and life threatening, all of it done solely for queen & country.

It’s funny how time can play tricks on your memory. When this book was originally being published it wasn’t on the most reliable of schedules (32 issues over six years) and when you read a story in stops and starts you can forget things that happen. One of Queen & Country’s calling cards is the fairly realistic portrayal of the modern spy game with all of its politics and interpersonal intrigue. The selling point was that this wasn’t James Bond, there weren’t a lot of gadgets and fantastical action set pieces, but rather there was haggling with superiors over obtaining clearance to run missions, tense working relationships with the CIA, and examinations on the effects of being a Minder on the personal lives of the agents. I used to tell people that if it was action they were looking for this wasn’t the right place.

Well, it turns out I was wrong.

Sitting down and reading this collection, which includes the first twelve issues, I was shocked at how much action there was. Not shocked as in “oh, my stars and garters all of this gunplay is giving me the vapors!�? rather it was “wow, I must have early onset dementia to not remember any of this.�? Maybe it’s because, as exciting as the action portion scenes are, it was the interpersonal stuff that really stuck with me and left the greatest impression. When I think of Queen & Country it’s usually not of Russian mobsters firing a shoulder-mounted rocket at the SIS headquarters in London (though that was pretty badass), rather it’s of Director of Operations Paul Crocker agonizing over the safety of his Minders or of Tara Chace’s self-destructive personal life (lots of alcohol and self-loathing). But if it is action you crave, there is action to be had, and it is indeed exciting. Rediscovering that fact has added a whole new level to the series. Reading it all at once I see now that it’s got a really nice balance of drama both action and personal. One unexpected benefit of reading this collection was that it made me love this series even more, which I didn’t think was even possible.

It’s a nice sized book, too. Hefty. Not exactly manga small, but not full comic book size, either, this collection is a hybrid of the two and I am really in love with the production. Oni Press picked a happy medium with these Definitive Editions and it’s a brilliant decision on their part. This collected edition encompasses three stories, or missions – Operation: Broken Ground with art by Steve Rolston, Operation: Morningstar with art by Brian Hurtt (featuring inks by Bryan Lee O’Malley of Scott Pilgrim), and Operation: Crystal Ball with art by Leandro Fernandez. Add in bonus features and it comes in at a meaty 362 pages.

Operation: Broken Ground is probably my favorite of the three. It opens with Tara Chace assassinating an arms dealing ex-Soviet general and the repercussions that follow, both physical (the Russian mob retaliates and puts a hit out on Tara) and mental (assassination as part of your job requirements can lead to a bit of job-related stress). The art by Steve Rolston is phenomenal and it’s his interpretations of the characters that I always think of when I picture them in my head.

Operation: Morningstar deals with smuggling information past the Taliban and out of Afghanistan. The operation itself is almost a backdrop to the real story which is Tara Chace and the rest of the cast having to deal with the repercussions of the first story arc. As Chace spirals more and more out of control outside of the office, her two fellow Minders have to pick up the slack and her boss starts to wonder if she’ll ever be fit for field duty again. This is the kind of stuff that makes Queen & Country so great. These aren’t devil may care superheroes who complete their missions and then go have a laugh at the pub, these are real people who have to deal with the awful things they sometimes have to do to serve their country.

Operation: Crystal Ball is probably the most controversial storyline in the collection and perhaps in the entire run of Queen & Country. It opens on the morning of September 11, 2001 and delves right into the War on Terror and a plot by an Islamic terrorist cell to gas the World Cup in Japan. But that’s not even the controversial part! No, this arc featured art by Leandro Fernandez, and it’s quite a departure from the style of the first two arcs. Whereas the art in the first two arcs by Steve Rolston and Brian Hurtt is very realistic (even when it’s cartoony), the art from Fernandez is very much… exaggerated. Let me put it this way – suddenly Tara Chace’s chest has grown by multiple cup sizes and she has taken to wear wearing outfits that I imagine would be highly impractical out in the field (A mesh shirt? Really?). I remember absolutely hating the art when I first read this arc and I wasn’t pleased to be revisiting it, at first. But upon rereading this story arc I found myself reevaluating the art. Yes, Tara’s chest and wardrobe is ridiculous. Yes, Paul Crocker has a really ridiculously long nose. Yes, the realism scene in the art of the first two arcs is mostly gone. But it’s very dynamic. It’s exciting. It works well for this story arc, for the most part. If you can get past the cheesecake, which, admittedly, is tough to do in parts, the art is actually pretty good for the book. What’s even stranger is that the bonus section features character sketches by Leandro Fernandez and in it Tara has a normal sized chest. And it’s all really, really good and less exaggerated. What happened to that guy? His art is awesome.

One thing that was always a bit tricky when reading Queen & Country in issues, especially with the publishing delays, was keeping track of the people, their jobs, and their relationship to one another. It’s much easier reading it all at once, and they have added in the very helpful feature that appeared in every issue of the comic – each new Operation begins with a who’s who of the important players drawn by the artist for that story.

Whenever people ask us to recommend really great comic books that don’t feature super heroes or really great comic books that they can hand to people unfamiliar with the vast expanses of stories that the medium has to offer I always – ALWAYS – mention Queen & Country. And now this collection makes that recommendation even better. I can hand this book to my spy story loving dad and be pretty sure he’s going to love it. You probably know people like that. You might even be one yourself.

If you’ve never read Queen & Country before and you pick this one up and find you like it, you’re in luck – Volume 2 is scheduled for release next month, just in time for New York Comic Con.

Conor Kilpatrick
Bollocks
conor@ifanboy.com

Comments

  1. I can’t believe this wasn’t picked the as the first book of the month.

  2. Great pick, and I actually want to take the chance to thank you for getting me interested in this book in the first place.  This review is right on and, in fact, I love the Definitive Edition so much that I am forgoing the trades and have Volume 2 on order.  Since I read the book, I’ve been carrying it around, looking for a chance to thrust it at someone who doesn’t read comic books because I feel like I could make a convert.

    This book reminds me a lot of the BBC series "Spooks" ("MI-5" in the US); any Q&C fans who haven’t watched Spooks should check it out from Netflix — but I was impressed to realize that Rucka was doing it first.

  3. yes, yes, yes.

    i grabbed this on a whim a few weeks back, and everything conor says is one hundred percent true. there really is a great blend of tense, in-the-field action and the consequences it has on the personal lives of the main characters. what’s amazing is that these are not separate things – there aren’t "action" sections and "personal" sections. the two are masterfully integrated. that’s one thing that stood out to me.

    i was slightly afraid of Q&C, because there was a lot of talk about the story being somewhat confusing on the podcast, but i have to think that was solely because of long delays between issues. when read in a wonderfully packaged (and economical – you get a lot of story for your dollar) book like this one, everything is pretty clear.

    can’t wait for volume two; it will be an immediate purchase. 

  4. @ oh caroline: i completely agree with the spooks comparison,  my brother introduced me to both queen and country and Spooks and there are many similarities, But Ruckas work has the edge. Any comic reader with a pulse should read these books!

  5. I don’t want to be "that guy," but there was a British series called The Sandbaggers from the ’70’s which is really what this book is strongly based on.  I mean, it’s eerily similar, which is not to suggest that Rucka ripped them off, but there is definitely some homage going on there.

    That being said, Spooks is fine fine television, and someone who likes that would probably very much like this.

  6. i love this book, especially in this format.my onlywih is that steve rolston was on art chose for all three missions

  7. Edit: my only wish is that Steve Rolston was on art chores for all three missions.

  8. He’s a guy I’d like to see more work from.  Apparently, he’s working on an OGN from Minx out this summer.

    Did you know that Queen & Country was his first professional work?  Crazy.

  9. Excellent choice!  I’d definitely be down with the Definitive Editions if I didn’t already own all of the Hardcovers.

  10. I own all the trades, love Q&C.  Is there any reason to buy this.  Are there extras?

  11. This book has been sitting in my read pile for about a month and now its been moved to the top.  I’m in the middle of Danger Girl, but it might get pushed to the side for this.

  12. You’re not gonna want to go back to Danger Girl…

  13. Absolutely love this book.  One of the first things I started picking up after joining the iFanbase.  And as much as I loved the Q&C novels, it would have been really cool to see illustrated adaptations of Tara losing MI:5 in the train station during Gentlemen’s Game, or to seeing her handling the surface to air missiles in Private Wars.  2009 or 2010 can’t come soon enough.

  14. I own all of the trades and I still bought the Definitive Edition, the pakaging is A+.

    Volume three is probably my favorite arc, the off-panel story with Ed Kittering in Iraq was just great and I felt like it had the most "plot-centric" goal in mind. The art by Leandro Fernandez is of course, meh but  I think I like it better than what Brian Hurt did on volume 2 (of course, you guys reading these definitives get a real treat next month with volume 4 and the art of J Alexander, however you also have the abysmal Carla Speed McNeil on vol 5.)

     Queen and Country is very similar to The Wire in that it doesn’t jump out and grab you right off, instead slowly pulling you in until you suddenly need it like a junkie needs heroine. You really come to love these  characters and feel  their pain along with them. When Tara hits the bottle you  want nothing more than for her to get clean. Fantastic stuff.

    Re: David B- I think that Private Wars is the best Q&C story bar-none. 

  15. Ooh, I heard Rucka talking about Sandbaggers on a podcast interview, but I didn’t realize it was something that was widely available.  Now I look and (cross-promotion!) Netflix has 3-seasons of it.

    Thanks for the tip.

  16. I actually just bought this last week and I am about 2/3 of the way through. I love the format and the characters are well developed in a short period of time. The artist change between arcs did bug me a little, but only a little. The story has more than made up for any of that.

  17. This book is why comics are great.  I read this and the next day ordered the pros novels and those are great too (so far). 

    I too thought the artist change between books was a litte hard to get used to in the beginning.  Really hard to get used to when they made Chace really sexy when she wasn’t in the first two storys.

     The writing is amazing though.

    Rucka Rucka Rucka……..

  18. didn’t realise sandbaggers was still available….AWESOME, it’s always good to see writers influences, it helps to further appreciate what is being produced beacause of it. cheers for the heads up Josh

    Ads

  19. I picked this up when it first came out because after my hiatus from comics, the trades for this series were hard to come by.  I absolutely loved this definitive volume and was stoked to see that all four definitive volumes are scheduled for this year.  I really think that this is Rucka’s masterpiece, but you can also see the beginning’s of Checkmate in these pages.  I imagine that Checkmate is the superhero version of this book. 

    I will say this, if I read this book in issues, I probably would have been annoyed at the delays and dropped it from sheer understanding of the story.  I’m so glad that I get the opportunity to enjoy  it like this.

  20. Bought this when it first came out, too. I only read trades. This is the dogs bollocks.

  21. Can anyone give a little more detail as to what’s actually contained in the extras? I own all the issues and while I’d love to have this in a nice collected edition, the extras are what would really sell it for me.

    I don’t think I need to further sing the praises of the book, but these Definitive Editions really look like a great opportunity for anybody who’s wanted to dip their toe into Q&C to check it out – you won’t be disappointed. And I believe Rucka referenced The Sandbaggers in the backmatter fairly early on in the series. This was a great reminder for me to update the Netflix list.

  22. The extra’s are about 20 odd pages of character designs, sketches and layouts by the various artists, there’s a few paragraphs about the authors (tiny bios) and a page with 3 photo’s of the authors taken from cons. I doubt that this would sell this edition to you.

  23. Thanks, Johnno – and you’re right, that’s probably not enough to sway me. It would probably cost about the same to just get my floppies binded (wow, that sounds bad) into hardcovers at some point.

  24. I can’t wait to pick this up

  25. Yes. Yes. Yes yes yes.  Yes!

  26. Everyone should read this and the novels so Greg will make more (though when he gets back Tara’s gonna by like 50 and D-Ops).

    Fernandez did a couple Wolverine & Punisher MAX arcs, which were VERY well-done/terrifying.

  27. This has been on my list for a while, but I just started getting Powers in trade and I’m set on picking all those up before I get hooked on anything else. But its definitely at the top of my list.

  28. what a coincidence that I just bought this a week or two ago at the midtown comics sale. I am about half way through it right now, and completely loving it. 

  29. Excellent review!  We’re glad so many people are picking up this new edition.  I just wanted to thank everyone and remind you that we post excerpts from most of our books free to read on our website http://www.onipress.com.  You can find the first 32 pages of Q & C at http://www.onipress.com/downloads.php on the far left along with a good number of our other titles.  They’re in a *.cbr format so you’ll need either CDisplay or Comical to read them.  Both programs are free and we’ve got links to them near the bottom of the page.  Oni is starting a comic archive at our website with new, free, books going up every few weeks so be sure to stop by regularly.  Thanks again for all your support.

  30. Thanks for the recommend and review.  I immediately went to Amazon.com and ordered both Vols. 1 & 2.  I can’t wait to read them.

    I love the monthly book review feature of iFanboy 3.0.  It’s exposing me to new material.

  31. I bought this at Wondercon…. going to take my time reading this

  32. Isn’t this being optioned for a movie?

  33. Picked this up and I’m halfway through and I can tell I’m going to love it.  However, I’m a bit confused as to the order since I remember hearing that there are prose novels as well as spin-off series that all tie in.  Is there a definitive order to read the series in?

  34. I just got my copy tonight and I only read the first story but WOW I love it. I am going to get the rest of this definitive editiion. Also Oni did a great job on this book. I love the feel and design of it. 

  35. Bought this a couple of days ago after watching Conor’s video recommendation. It’s a great little book that I’m sorry I hadn’t read earlier. I like Tara’s ordinariness – which suits this type of narrative – in the first story and agree that it’s a little disappointing that she goes all Lara Croft in subsequent stories. Agree with everyone else that the book has a great design. Have already ordered volume 2 off Amazon (which is about £5 cheaper than the bookshop I bought it in. Really must remember to buy stuff off the net…).

  36. I just read this last week.. Love it. Love it. Love it.

    I have no idea why it took me so long to buy this but that god for Definitive Editions. 🙂 

      

     

     

  37. I just got my copy in the mail today.  I can’t wait to crack it open.

  38. I’m reading the first pros novel right now and it seems to be a ways ahead of where this book ends.  If you don’t want spoilers wait on the pros novels ’cause there is a lot!

  39. Half way done with it and I’m loving it.  Great pick Conor.