Criminal No. 2 review: Comics and crime come together in “Bad Weekend”


Criminal takes a trip to the world of comics conventions.

Some genres are hard to get into. My Little Pony, say, or arthouse films are highly specific. Not everyone likes over-powered people in tights fighting other  people in tights. Crime thrillers should not be one of those hard-to-enjoy categories, however. Much like a car accident, people want to watch a gritty, grimy tale unfold, and it is with that almost morbid fascination that Criminal steps onto the scene and blows everyone in the room away with a Thompson sub-machine gun. Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips, along with his colorist son, Jacob Phillips, have been putting out a sort of anthology of hard luck crime noir since 2006, loosely focused around a character named Teeg Lawless and his family. With a fresh start in the last issue allowing the creators to try new things, this second issue departs from the story previously told, and focuses on a character from past issues of Criminal, forger Jacob Kurtz, and an unusual job he takes on — being the “wrangler” for an old, famously antagonistic boss at a comic convention in 1997.

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Pastiche and homage; Criminal blends worlds to make a new one

The issue starts off with Jacob Kurtz, ex-illustrator and current forger, getting a call asking him to watch over Hal Crane, one-time boss of Kurtz, at a comics convention that weekend, to which Jacob agrees. Kurtz is slightly confused, as Crane fired him and things didn’t end well. But his curiosity get the better of him, and the two meet up in a hotel lobby. We learn that Kurtz idolized Crane, which seems like some good emotional material to be used later for effect. Crane is offering a costumed woman money for sex and gets slapped, as Kurtz spots him, which shows us that Crane is a scumbag. Crane orders Kurtz to blow off an upcoming panel and drive them to a bar. At this point, we learn that Crane is bitter about an old cartoon he designed, and that he was in a car crash with another artist who died, after which point he became the jerk everyone is familiar with.

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This issue swirls real comics legends and fake names in a believable alternate reality, although it’s not explicitly stated, which lends credence to the truthfulness of the setting. Crane and Kurtz head to a bar, where Crane signs faked animation cells purporting to be from the famous cartoon he created; Crane is habitually in debt, due to poor life choices. They head back to the convention and head to the hotel bar (almost every issue of Criminal  has scenes at a bar), where Crane sees an acquaintance who he follows into the bathroom and pistol-whips, demanding back some stolen items. Learning they were sold to someone named Lucinda, Kurtz drives Crane to track her down, and when they do, it is revealed that Lucinda is Crane’s daughter, that she already sold the stolen items, and that Crane asked for Kurtz to chaperone him because he was aware of Kurtz’s criminal history; Crane needs Kurtz to help him rob someone.

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Unlike the first new issue, this story will conclude next issue, which makes one wonder what the plan is going forward. Perhaps the creators will circle back around to the first issue for number three. We’re treated to an essay on the classic gangster movie Angels With Dirty Faces, which is highly praised, and a nice letters section explaining the non-linear choices of Brubaker and Phillips. The art and stories this team produces are god-tier stuff; Darwyn Cooke‘s take on Parker might be the only thing better. (A film version was produced, called Payback.) This comic is impossible not to recommend, so go out and read it! Let us know what you thought in the comments section below.