Queen & Country: Declassified
Queen & Country: Declassified is a stand-alone spinoff of Greg Rucka’s popular spy series. This is a flashback story about Paul Crocker, the boss of Tara Chace, heroine of the regular Queen & Country.
It’s 1986, and a younger Paul is doing the kind of job Tara does now. He’s a field agent, previously sent to get a defector through the Berlin Wall, but that effort was a failure. Newly married, he’s sent out again to Prague on a similar mission.
Brian Hurtt’s art is what really sells the gritty realism of this story. It’s clear and direct, without stylistic flourishes that get in the way, but detailed in building the settings. He captures the dank, crowded feel of Communist-controlled cities during the Cold War.
The opening splash, where other agents wait for Crocker to cross the border with his charge, is astounding, both visually and in how quickly the uncertainty of the situation is established. “They don’t cross in the next hour, they’re not coming at all, Captain.” The suspense is palpable.
The centerpiece of the book is a lengthy action sequence that’s a literal page-turner. Readers will need to force themselves to slow down enough to grasp the detail and give Hurtt’s art the attention it deserves, but the story drives them onward to find out just how bad it will be. Then the politicians get involved, all too eager to give up and sell out.
We know that Crocker will survive, of course, but everything else is up for grabs, and Rucka makes us care quickly and deeply about these characters. Although working in one of the most popularly glamorous and realistically dangerous occupations in the world, they can’t help but treat it as a job. And it’s a dirty, unpleasant one, brought home by the aftermath of the botched mission.
This is a better Bond than the movies. Where they’ve replaced character and suspense with expensively flashy set pieces, Declassified concentrates on the details, building an action-packed spy thriller that’s more entertaining than a film.
The second Declassified volume, illustrated by Rick Burchett, is a pedestrian tale. Tom Wallace’s first case takes place just hours before Hong Kong is handed back to the Chinese.