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Writer Top Five: Greg Rucka

I’m not sure where I stole this idea from but it seemed a nice adjunct to my posts about comic book artists I like, so I thought I’d go through the list of writers who have the most comics in my collection (from this post), starting with writers who were just outside of the Top Ten, giving a list of my favourite Top Five works by that writer. First up: Greg Rucka.

It was the Eisner award-winning Whiteout that brought Rucka to the attention of the comic book industry (although he was a successful novelist before that). Since then, Rucka has been a name to trust for the quality of his writing and research, and for his approach to story and character, known for his strong female characters in a male-dominated medium.

Before my Top Five, a few mentions of other work by Rucka that I also like: there is Felon, his Image book, which started out as an ongoing series but unfortunately ended up a four-issue mini-series. His current run on The Punisher is the best thing he’s done at Marvel. His first run on Detective Comics, where he introduced Sasha Bordeaux as bodyguard for Bruce Wayne, was great stuff, as was his mini-series Batman/Huntress: Cry For Blood. His run on Checkmate (which used Sasha again) was a great bit of superhero espionage politics, and his Wonder Woman run was a great take on the character (described as ‘superhero West Wing’) until it got derailed by Infinite Crisis. Stumptown is a great private detective series, which has the potential to get on this list (it’s only had the first storyline in four issues so far). I’m also enjoying his webcomic with Rick Burchett (Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether), which you should be checking out. As always, this is a list fixed in time – who’s to know whether his new project, the co-creator-owned Lazarus (with Michael Lark) at Image, which was just announced at San Diego, will end up on a revised list?

5. Atticus Kodiak novels
Atticus Kodiak is a professional bodyguard; the stories are the jobs that don’t run smoothly. Rucka writes lean prose that reeks of authenticity and puts you in the middle of everything; most other thrillers I’ve read subsequently seem flimsy and badly written in comparison (I’ve read a Jack Reacher story and it has nothing on Rucka). What’s even better is that the story of the character has progressed: Rucka could have kept the series as just bodyguard adventures, but he evolved the nature of Kodiak and the stories he tells with him. Highly recommended.

4. 52
This is my list, so I get to define the rules. Yes, Rucka is a co-writer on this year-long weekly series (along with Grant Morrison, Mark Waid and Geoff Johns), but I enjoyed the whole thing (albeit in trade paperback form) and particularly Rucka’s storyline centred on Renee Montoya and her development as the new Question. Rucka has often stated his love and admiration for Denny O’Neill’s The Question, and he was instrumental in the development of Montoya’s character, and these two factors come together here perfectly.

3. Detective Comics #854–863
This was Rucka’s second run on Detective Comics but this would have the greater impact: for these issues, Batman was no longer the star of his own book, because it was the official introduction of Kate Kane as Batwoman, the former soldier who quit because of her honour and her homosexuality. The story is more critically praised for the unbelievably phenomenal art from JH Williams, who was doing amazing things with panel transitions and page design and different styles for Kate Kane and Batwoman, but it wouldn’t have had the impact without the writing of Rucka and his great characterisation of the Kate. In addition, there were the back-up stories drawn by Cully Hamner about the further adventures of Renee Montoya as the Question, also written by Rucka, which make for a complete package of great comic books.

2. Gotham Central
Another co-writing credit, but I don’t care: Rucka and Ed Brubaker wrote some fantastic stories with the brilliant premise of focussing on the police who work in the shadow of Batman and his insane rogues’ gallery. I love these stories, perfectly meshing the police procedural with superheroes (who are more on the periphery), with great art from Michael Lark on a critically praised but low-selling title. It was on this title that Rucka would first develop Renee Montoya, which continued on through to The Question: Five Books of Blood.

1. Queen & Country
Inspired by the British TV series The Sandbaggers, Queen & Country was a great comic book that has all the hallmarks of a Rucka book: a strong female protagonist, realism, well-researched storylines, great characterisation and with something to say. An independent (it was published at Oni Press), black and white comic book that started in 2001, it was about Tara Chace, an operative of the Special Operations Section of the Secret Intelligence Service, it was about the politics and bureaucracy of being an agent, with some hard-hitting spy action thrown in. Smart, exciting, engaging and emotional, it lasted for 32 issues (each arc drawn by a different artist), with several mini-series and three novels of great writing from Rucka; whenever I think of Rucka, the first visual is always Queen & Country.

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