A surprisingly excellent week: not only were Casanova, 100 Bullets and The Exterminators all up to their unusually high standards, but the new Wildstorm books (The Authority, Wildcats) weren't completely terrible. Still, Queen & Country, a rarely published book (this is probably the fourth, maybe, this year) has, for the first time, won the top spot. It is not because of its hyper-realism--that is pretty standard for this British spy saga. It is not because of its art--which is, as always, a bit perfunctory and simplistic. It is not because of the terse, sober dialog--31 issues in, it is clear that is one of its strengths. And no, it is not because of it's uncomfortable prescience: Iraqi's kidnapping three British nationalists and preparing to decapitate them on Al-Jazeera.
Although none of those things hurt it's chances.
So why did a comic that, in all honesty, would work better as a film (a film is actually in the works;) why did a comic that has never (including this issue) really worked in single issues (bar none, every one of Country's story arcs are far better in collected formats;) why did this comic beat out a group of comics that were all, individually, better issues?
It's not an easy answer--when comics are forced into competition, hard and fast rules can't really apply: some weeks a super-hero comic doesn't have a chance (more often than one might think, this is true) and some comics (Casanova, 100 Bullets, Dork, and Solo for example) are left out of competition sheerly because they're pretty much always great, and so get judged against themselves. Queen & Country is a different kind of a beast: it's unlike any other comic on the shelves, and, in actuality, really incomparable. It's a spy comic similar to the work of Le Carre or Spooks--high on angst and geopolitical discussion, interspersed with uncomfortable acts of high violence. Recent forays into spy comics from writers like Andy Diggle and Warren Ellis, entertaining as they've been, have been more in the vein of 24 or Ian Fleming: cool individuals being violent, with nods to realpolitik to support their plot. Queen & Country has, for it's entirety of existence, strove to hit a different angle: it's more action-y sequences have never been as compelling as it's alcoholic personality disorders, and it's dialog has always been rapid-fire C-Span material. It doesn't always make for the most fascinating reading, and is even unwieldy at times; even worse, it occasionally seems to be hiding very little substance beneath the forbidding style. Still, it is not like Rucka hasn't been trying: out of all of his comics work, Queen & Country certainly carries a sense of moral and psychological weight that his factory work for Batman never attained. (That isn't necessarily his fault: working for Oni Press on a creator-owned book is probably far more exciting than working on a big title for a bunch of editors.)
The latest issue of Country is one of the more upsetting reads of the year: no one dies, and regardless of the misleading cover, no one is tortured either--but the tense, depressing negotiations in a London-based field office juxtaposed with the frightening group of Iraqi's in Baghdad is so timely, so fucking "tomorrow morning" that it reads less like a comic and more like a news story. While it may not necessarily have been the "best" comic that came out yesterday, it's certainly a unique and innovative piece of work--and it's never unexciting to hold one of those for the first time.
-Tucker Stone, 2006