Queen & Country: Red Panda (#29 – 32) – Greg Rucka

5 out of 5

While we never got the comic book form of Q&C ‘season 2’ suggested by Greg’s editorial in the back of issue #32, ‘Red Panda’ was an excellent, gut-punching way to end the first season, as well as a fine end to the series which would carry on with a couple of subsequent books.

Picking up almost immediately after the Gentleman’s Game novel, that leaves Tara a wreck after having her life essentially forfeited by her own government, recommended (covertly) to go rogue by her own boss, Crocker, and dealing with the faux welcomings for her return – Why’dya go missing anyway? – while she figures out how to deal with, likely in her mind, being the cause of the death of a teammate.

Greg does so much so well character-wise in this book, from Tara’s terse discussions with the required psychologist to Crocker’s rejection of the same’s analysis, knowing that the best thing for his agent is to get her back in the field: she needs to know that he still trusts her.  That material alone could carry the arc, but the political world cares not for Tara, and so it’s within pages that the CIA is asking for unofficial help: an informant is selling information to the enemies; they need him taken out and proof procured.

To Crocker, this seems like an opportunity for Tara to get back out there, while to the reader, we know it means that something, inevitably, will go wrong.

It does.  And the emotional backhaul weighs heavy on how it plays out, which leads up to another plotting punch midway through that makes the end of the series all the more impactful.

The early Chris Samnee art is interesting – much heavier than his later, more acclaimed work, but already suggestive of his abilities with motion and subtle acting.  Brian Hurtt’s covers are perfect, absorbing you in to each issue with the turbulence promised by the cover (excepting maybe #30, which doesn’t seem to directly relate to the contents?).

I’d normally take a comic to task for going cross-media on us, but I kind of love the way that this expects you to have read the preceding novel.  I’m fickle, I know, but Greg put so much time and energy into these comics, and he wrote the book for the comic readers – it also didn’t give much to newbies starting there – so it seems fair and right to cross-pollinate back to the comic similarly.  And, yeah, it’s tough that we haven’t seen an illustrated version of Tara again, but I kinda sorta see Lazarus as having taken over this topical spot in Greg’s oeuvre, and that’s certainly an acceptable ‘accept no substitute’ substitute.