The crime-noir saga continues with the new run of Criminal.
When reviewing comics, one tries to pick things that are entertaining to read; critiques of uninteresting things would not make many writers happy, although some folks have made a career out of bad reviews. Much to this author’s pleasure, Criminal, written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Sean Phillips, and colored by his son, Jacob Phillips, is wholly, fully, and completely entertaining. It’s without a doubt one of the grittiest, human, and real comics to grace the stands in quite some time, being set in a world of criminals and the crimes they do.
Criminal already has seven previous volumes published, with the anthology setting allowing a reader to dive in wherever they want, and the latest issue is no different, although prior knowledge of the characters lends that much more familiarity and understanding to the plight of the Lawless family.
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Criminal starts out with old heists, and moves on to retribution
Criminal opens up with a boy breaking into an older gentleman’s house, and it becomes clear the older fellow isn’t all there. Asking to hear a story about a necklace, the reader is treated to a black and white flashback, to Japan after WWII. Two American boxers, in Japan to lose fights for money, get fed up with losing, and plan a robbery of a jewelry store, only things go bad, and one of them ends up in prison. The old man is the other boxer, who made it back home, and after paying everyone off, has only one, extremely fancy necklace left. The boy gets into a fight with the old man, hurting him badly, and takes off to pawn the stolen jewels for cash to bail his father, Teeg Lawless, out of jail. When he finds out where the money came from, Teeg realizes he has to go make amends to Sebastian Hyde, the big man in town, whose father was friends with the battered old man. To make things right, Teeg needs to get $25,000 in two weeks.
It feels all kinds of gangster in Criminal
Teeg makes some calls to find some crimes to do, and ends up hearing about the passing of his old partner Arv. He drives to Arv’s ex-wife’s house, learns about the manner in which he died, and spends the night. The next day is the funeral, and at the wake in a local bar, Teeg learns that Arv stiffed him for $30,000 on an old job. Understandably angry, he fights, gets kicked out of the bar, and slightly desecrates his friend’s grave, only to have an epiphany about Arv’s last moments that will guarantee him all the money he needs to pay back Hyde and possibly more.
There the issue ends, with a letter from Brubaker catching up the reader on the backstory of Criminal, along with a nice essay about Blood Simple, a Coen brothers movie and another fine example of noir.
This author can’t think of too many crime comics being published currently, and that makes Criminal that much more engrossing; always better to corner the market than to put out boring pablum. The tone of the story is gritty and grim, the tone of the colors is brooding and, where appropriate, bright, and the art looks like it jumped out of a black and white detective story from the Fifties. Do yourself a favor and check this one out, and let us know what you thought in the comments section below.