The Originals: Greg Rucka and Perfect Structure
What's nice about comics right now is that we're living in an era where many creators are actively exploring creator-owned avenues, even while freelancing for Marvel and DC Comics and other work-for-hire publishers. I think this is commendable, and I want to dive into the lesser-known works of a few of your favorite Big Two creators over the next few weeks in a series we're calling The Originals. I like being able to put money directly into the pockets of my favorite creators, especially when it means I get some pretty great stories in exchange. This week, I want to talk about Greg Rucka's work outside of the Big Two.
Greg Rucka has worked on The Punisher with Marco Checchetto, Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia with JG Jones, Gotham Central: In The Line of Duty with Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark, and Batwoman: Elegy with JH Williams III.
You know Rucka's name because he's helped craft some of the most stunning stories in comics. He resurrected the Punisher with a clean and organic hook after Garth Ennis put him to bed in Punisher MAX. He brought a fascinating mix of politics, culture, and myths to Wonder Woman. In Gotham Central, Rucka, Brubaker, and Lark created some of the best Batman comics ever, even if Batman technically wasn't in them hardly at all.
Greg Rucka is good at structuring stories. A friend suggested to me a while back that Rucka is one of the best at creating nearly flawlessly structured single issues in comics. You get in, you read a complete story, and you get out, eager for more. Rucka has managed to retain this habit even in the face of the reduced page count of modern cape comics, which is even more impressive.
Consider The Punisher #1. It's the first chapter in a long arc. You get one gunfight, a little bit of police procedural, some mystery, another gunfight, a pretty amazing stabbing, a secondary story featuring another gunfight, and also this, illustrated by Marco Checchetto:
Speaking as a longtime Punisher fan, that smile is as perfect a Punisher moment as any to come before. There's no kindness there. It's cruel and awful, a tiger toying with its prey before finishing it off at its leisure. Rucka and Checchetto know exactly what they're doing here, and this single page tells you everything you need to know about the tone of the series.
Greg Rucka also writes Stumptown with Matthew Southworth, Queen & Country with a variety of awesome artists, Lady Sabre & the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether with Rick Burchett, and several novels, the most recent of which is called Alpha.
Rucka's strengths carry over to his original work, as well. I think of these works as Distilled Rucka, if only because they, with the exception of Lady Sabre, feel like very grounded tales. Stumptown is a spin on a traditional detective story, while Queen & Country takes the British super-spy genre we all know and love and shows us a much more realistic, and procedural, take on the concept.
Queen & Country: Broken Ground, Rucka's collaboration with Steve Rolston, was actually my introduction to Rucka's work, and it's still probably my favorite of his original works. It stars Tara Chace, an operative of the Secret Intelligence Service, and covers the exciting and the dull aspects of being a secret agent. For example, in one story, terrorists attack the SIS HQ in retaliation for a prior mission. In any other comic, our highly-trained secret agents would go out with two guns blazing and take down the terrorists and teach them a lesson for their effrontery.
In Queen & Country, our agents are limited by bureaucracy and forbidden from carrying firearms on the streets of London, despite the clear and present danger to their lives. How do they work it out? They improvise. I don't want to ruin how, because that's a pretty great moment, but it's extremely enjoyable.
Rucka's an extremely dependable writer, and he has great taste in collaborators, too. He does spy fiction in a way that is rarely, if ever, seen in comics, and his mysteries and detective tales are a ton of fun. You can find Queen & Country in a series of four omnibuses (Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition) at your local bookstore or on Amazon. Stumptown is available from Comixology or in brick & mortar shops. Finally, Lady Sabre is a free steampunk webcomic. Give 'em a try.