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Queen & Country #15

Posted: Wednesday, April 9, 2003
By: David Kozlowski



"Blackwall (part 3)”

Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Jason Alexander

Publisher: Oni Press

Synopsis:
The French government is extorting British Billionaire Colin Beck in order to secure a lucrative technology contract. French agents videotaped Beck’s daughter, Rachel, engaging in explicit sex and threaten to go public. MI-5, concerned about the potential economic espionage, sends Tara Chace across the channel to investigate.

Comments:
I’m an American living in San Francisco, so I cannot confirm that Queen & Country authentically captures the flavour of contemporary Britain or if writer Greg Rucka’s perceptions of the British Intelligence Service (MI-5) are spot-on. However, I am a former soldier, I’ve read Andy McNab’s non-fiction accounts of the S.A.S. as well as numerous other books on espionage and military special operations, so I have a strong feel for the subject matter. On that front Queen & Country has been a terrific, if infrequent, depiction of the human side of a counter-terrorism, intelligence-gathering agency. Brilliant stuff, you might say.

Previous Q&C storylines have dealt with the Taliban in Afghanistan, Russian Mafia in Kosovo, and bio-terrorists in Egypt. Each arc dealt with large-scale issues and generally faceless adversaries. “Blackwall” has been a departure, in that this is a much more personal story -- even though the entire French government is cited as the bad guy. Tara Chace and Rachel Beck have known each other most of their lives though they’ve lost touch in recent years. Rachel’s life is out of control, she’s estranged from her father, and when she finally finds someone who she cares for, he turns out to be a skeevy, undercover operative for a foreign government. Tara sees parallels in her own life and yet must use her friend to uncover the truth. Rucka presents this material in a mature and adult manner, this is the kind of stuff that mainstream audiences should be exposed to; it defies that philosophy that comics are just super-heroes.

While Rucka’s storytelling is solid and his characterizations are both deep and believable, there are just too many coincidences and chance occurrences in this concluding chapter for me. At the end of the last issue Tara just happens to run into Anton, Rachel’s lover, outside of Rachel’s hotel. Anton is distraught, turns out that he loves Rachel -– even though he whored her out to his government. After a fairly mild beating Anton cracks and tells Tara everything. Bad enough that Tara and Rachel were once best friends, but the dumb luck of running into Anton and then getting him to spill his guts so easily was a bit hard to swallow (that’s 2 really awful, back-to-back metaphors, case you were counting).

Thus ends Jason Alexander’s run as artist on Q&C. As per tradition, the subsequent arc brings aboard a new artist (Carla Speed McNeil). Alexander’s style, which seems very influenced by Mike Mignola and at times Ashley Wood, is gritty and loose -- yet manages to convey a lot of humanity. Most panels consist of tight facial shots where the characters portray taut emotion. Alexander lays down ink in huge swaths, yet he still captures human expressions with remarkable precision. This is some of the best black & white art I’ve seen.

Final Word:
Even though Rucka’s resolution is a bit too tidy, by way of Anton’s nancy-boy confession, the sobering epilogue redeems him. Without divulging anything, we gain a lot more insight into Tara’s life and further understand how hollow it must be. “Blackwall” isn’t the strongest or most exciting Q&C tale so far, but it furthers the lives of some of the most realized characters in comics today. Now if Oni Press could only get this out on a monthly basis.



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