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Comic Book / Queen and Country

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"There's a trick, they teach it to you at the School. When someone pulls a gun on you, they say...charge at him like a bloody lunatic... It's the last thing they expect and most of them can't hit water from a submarine anyway...and repeat to yourself over and over that you're doing this for Queen and Country."
Tara Chace, "Operation: Broken Ground"

Queen & Country is an Oni Press comic book and Bantam Publishing novel series written by Greg Rucka about a group of spies in the Special Operations Section of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6), called "Minders". The main character is Tara Chace, Minder Two. The series is known for a few things: the ridiculous amount of research Rucka does for each issue, the series' similarity to The Sandbaggers, and just how realistic the whole thing is.

Characters in the series are:

  • Tara Chace: Main character. Blonde, beautiful, foul-mouthed, and very good at what she does. She begins the series as Minder Two.
  • Tom Wallace: Minder One and the most senior Minder in the Pit (twelve years total, with six years as Minder One, which is very good considering how dangerous the job is).
  • Ed Kittering: Minder Three and the most junior member. Still a little wet behind the ears and has a crush on Tara.
  • Paul Crocker: Director of Operations (D-Ops), the head of the Special Operations division, the Cynical Mentor to the entire team. He also cares very deeply about his operatives, but is perfectly willing to send them to their deaths if he has no other choice.
  • Donald Weldon: Deputy Chief of Service, Crocker's boss. Gets into plenty of arguments with Crocker, but often backs him up.
  • C: Chief of Service, everybody's boss, a position which is occupied by three people throughout the series.

The first series has finished with 32 issues, three prequel volumes, and three novels, (the comics nicely collected in four omnibus editions). Operation: Broken Ground was the first published, but chronologically, they go:

  • Queen & Country Declassified Volume 1 (Paul Crocker's backstory)
  • Queen & Country Declassified Volume 2 (Tom Wallace's backstory)
  • Queen & Country Declassified Volume 3 (Nick Poole's backstory)
  • Operation: Broken Ground
  • Operation: Morning Star
  • Operation: Crystal Ball
  • Operation: Blackwall
  • Operation: Stormfront
  • Operation: Dandelion
  • Operation: Saddlebag
  • Novel: A Gentleman's Game
  • Operation: Red Panda
  • Novel: Private Wars
  • Novel: The Last Run

A film adaptation to be directed by Ridley Scott has been stuck in Development Hell for some time.

Tropes used in this work:

  • Action Mom: Massive spoiler: Tara in Private Wars and The Last Run.
  • Anyone Can Die: Ed Kittering, Brian Butler, Tom Wallace.
  • Armour-Piercing Question: In Private Wars, Crocker offers Tara an "officially unofficial" assignment that will allow her to return to SIS. When she tells Valerie (Tom's mother, and Tamsin's grandmother), Valerie gently asks, given the nature of Tara's job (which she doesn't know about precisely, but does understand is highly dangerous) if Tara can guarantee she'll come back. When she realizes she can't say that, Tara breaks down in tears.
  • Art Shift / Depending on the Artist: With ten different artists across the series, this was inevitable, so this trope can occasionally hit quite hard. Tara herself is depicted as everything from rather "girl next door", to attractive, to supermodel-gorgeous (even wearing crop tops into the office), but Tom Wallace seems to be the most commonly affected.
  • Betrayal by Inaction: What Tara thinks Crocker did to her during the events of A Gentlemen's Game, even though he gave her advance warning to go on the run when she was about to be arrested and turned over to the Saudi Arabians for execution. He later manages to convince her (truthfully) that he did everything he possibly could to help her, and that if he'd refused to do as told afterwards, C merely would have sent the order herself and removed Crocker from the equation, thus guaranteeing his being unable to assist her anymore.
  • Britain Is Only London: Quite averted. Various installations all over the UK are depicted and Nick Poole has a history in Northern Ireland.
  • Broken Ace: Tara is beautiful, witty, and very good at her (extremely difficult) job. She's also plagued with self-loathing (particularly after being ordered or feeling compelled to commit horrible-but-necessary acts) and has absolutely no life outside the job until her daughter Tamsin is born.
  • Broken Bird: Happens to Tara several times. The first is at the beginning of Operation: Stormfront, when her ex-lover Ed Kittering dies. Happens a second time at the end of Operation: Saddlebag, when Crocker reprimands her for screwing up a mission, which drives her to a severe (even for her) drinking binge. The third is at the end of A Gentlemen's Game and into Operation: Red Panda, after she sees her lover Tom Wallace murdered in front of her.
  • But I Can't Be Pregnant! / Surprise Pregnancy: Tara after the events of A Gentlemen's Game, when she finds out she's pregnant with her deceased lover Tom Wallace's child. She was on Depo-Provera, but apparently something went wrong.
  • Cold Sniper: Subverted — Tara is sent to murder a Russian mobster with a sniper rifle. She does the job cleanly and without hesitation, but afterward drinks heavily and engages in other forms of self-abuse.
  • Covert Group with Mundane Front: MI-6 (and presumably MI-5 as well). The general public know they exist and roughly what they do, but agents of both keep information of where they work heavily restricted, with typically only their spouses knowing the truth (for instance, Tom's mother never learns the complete truth of his death, though she does surmise that he and Tara do some kind of secret government work). Tara's cover story for Tamsin's nanny is that she's a senior flight attendant who sometimes gets called in at a moment's notice.
  • Dead Guy Junior / Meaningful Name: Tara's daughter Tamsin. Tamsin is a shortened form of Thomasina, the feminine version of Thomas, which was Tamsin's father's name.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Comes with the job when you cope with regularly risking your life and liberty for Queen and country.
  • Dirty Business: All of the Minders are called on to do terrible things; none of them feel good about it. Much of the series shows Tara's resulting self-abuse and struggle with the psychological aftermath. (Ironically, stone-cold killers are the last thing Crocker wants for agents.)
    Doctor Callard: You sent her to Kosovo to shoot a man in cold blood. You wouldn't want her in the Section if that didn't bother her.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: In Broken Ground Tara gets through a military checkpoint despite forged identification, a stolen vehicle, and actively bleeding from a bullet wound by passing a naked photo of herself over with her ID. It backfires later when one of the guards identifies her specifically because the event cemented her appearance in his mind.
  • Double Subversion: In The Last Run, an Iranian SIS contact from nearly thirty years ago suddenly requests extraction. When it turns out to be a member of the Ayatollah Khameini's family, SIS and the CIA fall all over themselves to arrange it, with the CIA demanding that Tara be sent even though she's requested to be taken out of the field. She agrees, but it turns out that the head of VEVAK (Iranian intelligence) is blackmailing the contact and formulated a plan to use him to capture Chace, thereby gaining access (through torture) to all the sensitive information she knows. In the end, however, it turns out this was a smokescreen, as it is the VEVAK chief himself who wants to defect, and thought that his best chance was by joining forces with SIS's best agent.
  • Downer Ending: A few times, things...don't end well. A Gentleman's Game ends with Tom Wallace dead. Private Wars ends with the chessmaster of recent atrocities as President of Uzbekistan while Tara has to sacrifice more of her own soul to shoot the vengeful husband of the woman who'd been raped, tortured, and murdered at that President's behest to preserve stability in the region. In front of his own son. Only that Tara's daughter is waiting back home for her gives this a glint of light.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: In The Last Run, Tara puts in a request to transfer from her position as Minder One to Mission Planning, believing that she's getting too old and too well-known to keep operating effectively, and with her daughter about to start school, wants to be there for her. She agrees to take one last mission, but it turns out to be a setup that gets her shot and nearly killed. Through a combination of circumstance, luck, and inter-agency cooperation, she manages to not only get home safely, but with a prize ( the head of counterintelligence for the Iranian intelligence service, who had decided to defect) which gives the retiring and politically wounded Crocker enough leverage to name her his replacement as D-Ops, giving Tara the stability in life she wanted.
  • Ethical Slut: Tara has sex with numerous partners, with little emotional connection; she hooks up with one guy just because he sits down next to her at a bar. The only men she has serious relationships are Kittering and Wallace, and those both end badly. She breaks up with Kittering because he falls in love with her and she's afraid of falling in love with him, then several years later she and Wallace fall in love, but he's killed during a mission they're on. And she finds out soon afterward that she's pregnant.
  • Expy: The series as a whole has a lot in common with The Sandbaggers, but tends to slot characters into the same roles instead - most of the actual characters have significantly different life experiences. (That is, most. Paul Crocker and Tom Wallace are obviously modeled on Neil Burnside and Willie Caine, respectively.) Chace is a Expy of Lily Sharpe, so much so that Rucka once jokingly suggested she was Lily (there's even a Mythology Gag in the series to that effect), though he later disavowed this claim when Character Development made Tara an increasingly different person.
  • Feeling Their Age: Though she's only 33 or 34 at the time, normal aging and her many injuries have caused this to happen to Tara at the start of The Last Run. For the first time ever, she fails part of the physical refresher course that all Minders have to take periodically, and she notices that her reflexes have begun to slow as well. She tenders her resignation from the post of Minder and requests a transfer to Mission Planning, pointing out that because of her length of service, she's effectively been compromised as an agent.
    Tara: Nine years in the field, Paul. For Christ's sake, if there's an intelligence agency anywhere in the world that doesn't know who I am at this point, it's because they're not bloody trying.
  • Firing One-Handed: And completely impractical, as shown with Russian gangsters.
    Tom: It's Hollywood what does it, you ask me.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: William Leacock in A Gentlemen's Game. Started out a harmless British kid, ended up as a bloodthirsty jihadi who murders his best friend, a girl he's fallen in love with, and Tom Wallace.
  • Fun with Acronyms: A hurricane of acronyms, most of them straight from The Sandbaggers, like D-Ops. You have to pay real good attention to understand what most of them mean, too.
  • Gratuitous French: For one issue (#25), Tara and her mother talk almost entirely in French.
  • If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her...: Tara to her mother's fiancé. In the aforementioned Gratuitous French.
  • Improvised Weapon: The Minders often have to make do without knives or firearms, so they've fought with everything from collapsible batons to items from an airport gift shop.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Happens to several characters, unfortunately.
    • Cold-Blooded Torture: Zahidov's specialty in Private Wars; tellingly, Tara is the only person shown to be capable of angering him while he's doing so. The Iranians also try this on Tara in The Last Run
    • Torture Always Works / Torture Is Ineffective: Tara thinks this to herself during her experience in Private Wars. Torture will always extract information, though eventually the person being tortured will begin to invent things to stop the pain, at which point it fails. Crocker and C assume this when Tara is captured in The Last Run, though it isn't seen as a blight on her character or strength of will. It's simply taken as a given that everyone will eventually break and tell their captors everything they know, because the human body and mind can only take so much. Tara even lampshades it when she thinks that while people survive torture, no one ever endures it.
    • Torture Porn: The level of detail in what Zahidov does to his victims in Private Wars easily crosses into this.
  • The Lad-ette: Tara can curse, drink, and smoke with the best of them. She quits the latter two cold turkey the day she finds out she's pregnant, though she's begun smoking again out of Tamsin's presence by Private Wars, and will have a drink occasionally, though not to the nearly-alcoholic levels she used to.
  • Life Will Kill You: Ed Kittering dies suddenly from a brain aneurysm by sheer bad luck. The other characters spend a long time trying to prove that it was a subtle murder, and find that it makes the death seem even sadder when they accept it.
  • Married to the Job: Tara before she has Tamsin. She has no long-term love interests, and only rarely sees her mother or her one close friend. Her only non-self-destructive (drinking, smoking, meaningless sex) outlet is painting. Several of the other Minders are hit with this as well; Ed Kittering is a motorcycle fanatic, Tom Wallace buys and restores classic Triumph automobiles, and Nick Poole is a self-taught gourmet chef who maintains an herb and vegetable garden in his backyard.
  • Mission Control: The MCO is alternately known as the Main Communications Officer and the Mission Control Officer. A Running Gag is that the acronym stands for both arbitrarily.
  • Murphy's Bullet: Tara Chace manages to avoid all the bullets shot at her except for one ricochet, which hits her in the leg.
    Greg Rucka: What is it Wallace always says? It's not the bullet that has your name on it you have to worry about... it's all those other ones marked 'To whom it may concern.
  • Mythology Gag: To Rucka's previous mystery comic, Whiteout; while waiting to perform an assassination, Tara thinks to herself that "The last time I was this cold, I was at the South Pole."
  • Near-Rape Experience: Happens to Tara twice. When she's briefly captured during Operation:Stormfront , the thugs in the truck intend to rape her, though they barely even touch her before she kills them and escapes. Then in Private Wars, she is captured during an exfiltration gone wrong, tortured, and literally seconds away from being penetrated before she's rescued by a CIA agent. This second experience has lasting psychological effects; between the pain of her interrogation and knowing how close she was to actually being raped, she becomes very withdrawn, loses all interest in sex, and only allows Valerie and Tamsin to even touch her for months afterwards.
  • Newspaper Dating: Used repeatedly.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In A Gentlemen's Game, Tara is tasked with assassinating the ideological head of a terrorist organization. She does so, but the collateral damage is a minor Saudi Arabian prince. While they were performing midday prayers. The uproar that ensues from this is enough to cause Her Majesty's Government to decide to hand her over to the Saudis for execution in exchange for the Saudi's allowing a terrorist training camp to be destroyed by Coalition forces.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Sir Frances Barclay, who takes over as C during Operation: Dandelion. Although he's been with SIS for years, he is very much a politician, considers the Minders to be thugs, and he and Crocker genuinely hate each other because they worked together during an operation gone bad years prior.
  • Oh, Crap!: Multiple examples throughout the series, though a particularly notable one is Crocker's reviewing Tara's medical exam (which was delivered so late it came after he'd already sent her out on another assignment) and realizing from the blood work that she's almost two months pregnant.note 
  • Post-9/11 Terrorism Movie, Real Life Writes the Plot: The series started just a few months before the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Operation: Crystal Ball takes a few pages to show the cast's immediate reaction to the event, and the consequences immediately start turning up in the plot. The first arc also features a rocket attack on the MI-6 headquarters, which really happened in September 2000 when Rucka was writing the story.
  • Pregnant Badass: Tara during the events of Operation: Red Panda, though she doesn't know it at the time, and she doesn't take it very well once she does find out, thinking that Crocker knew before sending her on the assignment (which he didn't).
  • Rage Breaking Point: Tara hits this during Operation: Red Panda when she, Nick, and a BBC journalist are about to be executed by Muslim extremists. When the men attempt to kill the innocent writer, Tara snaps out of her fatalistic depression( caused by Tom's death), and takes advantage of her hands being bound in front of her to grab one man's sword and kill two of them with it before picking up a dropped AK-47 and taking out the other three. And during the entire sequence, she's ranting about Tom's death.
  • Retirony: Tom Wallace goes to teach and then bites it in A Gentleman's Game.
  • Shown Their Work
  • Someone to Remember Him By: After what is implied to be years of beating around the bush, Tara and Tom Wallace finally begin a relationship during A Gentlemen's Game after he's no longer with MI-6 as a field agent. However, shortly afterwards, Tom is killed helping Tara run an off-the-books mission, and what Tara initially thinks is a stress-induced disruption of her menstrual cycle turns out to be pregnancy.
  • Spiritual Successor: To The Sandbaggers, so much so it could have been called The Sandbaggers: The Next Generation. Rucka is not shy about acknowledging that he borrowed the structure of SIS and many of the character elements, though there are significant divergences - The Sandbaggers dealt largely with the realpolitik of the Cold War while Queen & Country mostly deals with the complexity of intelligence operations in a post-9/11 world, Rucka's D-Ops is happily married with kids, and most significantly, The Sandbaggers set their D-Ops as the protagonist, while Queen & Country primarily follows the character arc of one of the field agents.
  • Spy Fiction: Definitely, extremely in the Stale Beer category.
  • The Spymaster: Paul Crocker, of course. Also Angela Cheng, the CIA Station Chief in London. Paul once jokes that at least a quarter of the staff at Security Services (MI-5) headquarters is on the CIA payroll. Given Angela's level of knowledge regarding what the Special Section is up to, this may not be entirely a joke.
  • Straight Gay: Nick Poole. He's also a talented chef.
  • Take This Job and Shove It: After she finds out she's pregnant in Private Wars, Tara requests a year's leave to have the baby. Crocker not only denies her, but insinuates she should either have an abortion or give the baby up for adoption. She ignores his repeated denials and keeps asking, but after he refuses her a fourth time, she quits on the spot. It's left ambiguous whether he was really being a hard-ass or if he was trying to force her to resign and be a full-time parent, but the end result is the same.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted, there is one (nicknamed "the Madwoman of the Second Floor") but due to the nature of their work, there's little she can do to help agents besides patch them up so they can return to the field and get demolished again...
  • Tuckerization: Tara Felicity Chace the SIS agent was named for Tara Felicity Chace the teenage friend of Greg Rucka, who introduced him to spy movies. He notes wryly in the Definitive Edition that going over to her house and watching them was how they both (cluelessly) dealt with being Hormone Addled Teenagers.
  • We Will Not Use Photoshop in the Future: Averted - a blackmail video is sent for analysis to confirm it was not faked.