It’s comic creator month here on geekhardshow.com, so what better time to take a look back at some of my favourite creators and their greatest creations. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be looking at a selection of creators and listing what I think are some of their most masterful works. This Friday we’re talking with Steve Lieber, so I thought it would be fun to look back at the work of one his past (and hopefully future) collaborators. Greg Rucka is a writer’s writer. He builds strong characters, complex plots and realistic environments with what appears to be the greatest of ease that one can’t help but be jealous of his creativity. Whether it’s a superhero, a private detective, a secret agent or a soldier, Greg is taking you on the ride of your comic book life. What follows are six of the best stories by Greg Rucka to hit the comic racks. Some are beloved classics. Others are hidden gems. All are MUST reading for any fan of Rucka. So take a look True Believers, you just might learn something.
(Whiteout Vol. 1 #s 1-4 – 1998)
Artist: Steve Lieber
If you’re looking for a story that pulls no punches in it’s realistic storytelling, you can’t find a story better than this. Set in Antartica, U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko keeps the peace. That is until somebody ends up dead. Murdered. The Murderer is one of five men scattered across the continent and Carrie’s got to track him down before the majority of folks on the ice pack up and head north for the winter. As Stetko makes her way across the vastness by plane to track down this killer, the murderer adds a few more victims to his list and it becomes obvious that there’s more to this mystery than just slaying. Samples were taking from the ice at the first crime scene and they play a factor. It’s up to Carrie, along with British agent Lily Sharp, to find the killer and solve the case before the deep freeze sets in. This book is intense and has the pacing of a horror movie at points. Carrie goes through hell to get her man and the evidence is on the page as she get’s caught in the middle of a whiteout (hey look, it’s not just a clever title) at one point, resulting in the loss of half her hand. What’s amazing is the weight of the loneliness that Stetko feels for most of the story and the pain she carries from her life before coming to the ice can always be felt while reading this tale. It’s like it’s faintly in the background, almost like a numbness that Carrie can’t shake. This would be the first of many great female leads that Rucka would have a hand in over the years.
(Tangled Web #4 – 2001)
Artist: Eduardo Risso
A character defining story for The Kingpin and he’s barely in the book. Tom Cochrane is an accountant for Wilson Fisk. His life has been good for the most part but he’s always had that fear that since he works for the The Kingpin of New York’s crime world, things will eventually end badly. That day has come as a screw up that he was partially responsible for has transpired and Mr. Fisk has sent an employee to pick him up. As Tom approaches what he knows will be his death, he fears for his family’s life as The Kingpin’s history of “making an example” of someone is viscious and not to be mistaken. In the final moments when Tom meets Fisk, the accountant makes his case to show mercy to his family. The end results show that maybe there is a bit more to Wilson Fisk than just being the Kingpin after all. While this wasn’t the flashiest of comic books and there’s not a lot of action, this book has you on the edge of your seat. The tension is racheted up perfectly with each page. Rucka and Risso present a story that would work perfectly for a Marvel One Shot short film. It’s an in and out story that is packed with character and reveals more about Wilson Fisk than an origin tale ever would. Still one of the best “done in one” stories I’ve ever read.
Operation Broken Ground
(Queen and Country #s 1-4 – 2001)
Artist: Steve Rolston
When folks of talk of James Bond and how he’s the greatest secret agent, I can’t help but laugh because he’s got nothing on Tara Chase. In fact, if Bond had to deal with a tenth of what Chase has, he would either be dead or in hiding. Tara is a part of the special section of Britain’s Ministry of Intelligence and is tasked with the dirty work – cleaning up messes and making a few when needed. When she’s tasked with taking out a general in the Russian Mafia who’s attempting to peddle drugs in underprivileged countries, she does the job, no questions asked. This puts a target on her back as the Russian Mob cannot allow her to go on living. What follows is a gritty tale of espionage without the Hollywood glitz and glamour. This was the first Queen and Country tale and the six comic story arcs and three novels that followed were just as brilliant as the first. But there can only be one first time and when we’re first introduced to Tara Chase, it’s a moment of pure comic book magic. Anyone who loves spy stories needs to check this out as it is a great take on modern espionage.
Half a Life
(Gotham Central #s 6-10 – 2003)
Artist: Michael Lark
Arguably one of the greatest mainstream comic stories that Rucka has ever written. Officer Renne Montoya, a character that Rucka would do a lot with over the course of his run at DC Comics, is outed as a lesbian at the GCPD and finds her work environment and personal life turned upsidedown. On top of dealing with those who are not ready to hear this information about her, she’s also got to deal with Two-Face, who’s fallen in love with her. Aside from the Two-Face part of the tale, the book takes an a very real look at Montoya’s situation after she’s outed and the emotional stress and confrontations with co-workers and family that come with it. The Gotham Central series was fantastic from beginning to end with both Rucka and Ed Brubaker coming up with some great police procedural stories set in the DCU. This story stands out the most as it was the first tale to not take the procedural route and focus more on character instead. Again, great character dissection is on display. It’s a shame more people didn’t pick this book up. Fools who complained that “there wasn’t enough Batman” was probably the culprit.
(Stumptown Vol. 1 #s 1-4, 2009 to 2010)
Artist: Matthew Southworth
The slogan for the Stumptown detective agency is “getting our ass kicked so you don’t have to”. A case of a missing person. One that Dex, a private detective and gambling addict, is hired to solve. The missing person: A casino owner’s granddaughter. The fee: If Dex finds the girl, she gets all her debts with the casino erased. Talk about motivation. What follows is a classic detective story set in modern times, complete with famous plot devices like the private dick getting the shit beat out of them and almost killed. That happens here and Dex looks like a goner. There are a number of “holy shit” moments in this story. It’s obvious that the story is influenced both by the hard boiled novels of Parker and Chandler and t.v. shows like The Rockford Files. What’s cool is that Rucka doesn’t shy away from these influences and puts them on display like a badge of honor. Out of all the characters that Rucka has created, Dex would most likely be the coolest one to hang out with.
(Punisher Vol. 8 #s 1-16 – 2011 to 2012)
Artist: Marco Checchetto
I never thought the story of the Punisher could be presented like this. In the sixteen issue epic that was Rucka’s run on The Punisher, Frank Castle starts out less a character and more a force of nature. By taking away the internal monologue that the Punisher is known for adding in the supporting cast of Sgt. Rachel Cole-Alves and detectives Clemons and Bolt, we got to see the one man war on crime in a whole new light. The exploration of Punisher interacting with Rachel, someone who’s going through the anger and loss that he knows too well and seeing her try to emulate him is amazing as it shows off how truly unique Frank Castle really is as not too many people could become what he became. This doesn’t even touch on the fact that The Exchange was probably one of the more interesting crime organizations that Frank has ever faced. While some didn’t get it at first, this truly is a landmark story in the Punisher cannon and proved that there’s more than one way into the mind of The Punisher.
So that’s the list. Some of you might disagree with a few of my choices or omissions, but these are the Greg Rucka stories that stand out as the hallmark of quality. So check ‘em out and enjoy.
And if you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!