Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips
Published by: Marvel Comics
Honest work is for suckers. The grift, the con, the rackets…that’s where the real money is. Life is one big game and only chumps play it straight. Pay attention to the rules, and you’ll stay safe. If you act like a fish you’re sure to get caught.
Admit it. You’ve thought about it at least once. There has to be a better way than that nine-to-five, punchin’ a clock, day-in-day-out, dreary existence you call a life. A thin line separates the average Joe from a life of crime. While nobody wants to be “The Bad Guy”, everybody has thought about being “a bad guy” now and again. Just once wouldn’t it be nice to throw away all those pesky little rules that make us civilized and say “Screw it all!” to the world?
Call it escapism, fantasy or whatever you like, but as a culture we have always been fascinated with the dark and foggy alleys of the underworld. Whether it is Jesse James, Billy The Kid, Al Capone, Wolverine or Captain jack Sparrow, there’s just something about those guys and gals that live outside of the law. We see in them the epitome of freedom. They live life as if it were short, and go forth into the void with reckless abandon. If they happen to screw-up and get pinched or worse, we tell ourselves that we made the right choice all along.
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have created a world where we can sit back and watch as these seedy, lowlife, scumbags go about their business and screw up, all to our complete enjoyment.
In the first installment of ‘Criminal’ we enter the life of Leo. Small-time hood who, when he’s not spending time taking care of his father’s aging-sick-junkie-ex-partner, he’s picking pockets and selling identities. Life sucks for Leo, but the good news is, it’s about to get a whole lot worse. A blast from the past is back and will stop at nothing to get Leo back to a “real” score; Five million in diamonds to be precise. Problem is, even though he’s a great thief, Leo’s too afraid of ending up shanked in some 4’x5’ prison cell just like his old man, to be of any use.
This book has it all for you noir-junkies; crooked cops, dames, pick-pockets, con-men, a smoke-filled bar and all the double-crossing you could want. Anyone familiar with ‘Scene of the Crime’ or Sleeper, will not be disappointed. In fact, like me, you may find yourself thinking that ‘Criminal’ has the chance to be better than either of those books. While the main characters in both of those titles were fascinating, and sympathetic, I got the feeling that ‘Criminal’ is not a book about just one character. Much like Frank Miller’s Sin City, ‘Criminal’ offers the perfect backdrop where an almost unlimited array of intriguing characters and situations may occur.
Brubaker’s pacing and dialog is dead on with just the right combination of crime lingo and noir exposition, without sounding dated or campy. These are living, breathing characters, trying to survive in an unforgiving city. While Phillips’ gritty pencils and generous use if black set the mood, it’s Brubaker’s dialogue, that makes the tension and paranoia of living a life of crime, feel tangible.
Phillips’ art, as always is nearly perfect for this type of story. Dark and gritty, with a wonderful sense of pulp, style and drama. With a simple, nine-panel grid composition, he is able to keep us focused on the important moments, not allowing us to wonder off on our own. There are plenty of dangers lurking in the shadows of this world, and Sean doesn’t want us to get lost. The overall effect creates a sense of intrigue and a slight feeling of claustrophobia. While the world of Criminal is a big place, these stories take place in the shadows and smoke.
Going back to their roots of crime-fiction, Brubaker and Phillips have hit the bullseye with Criminal. It has all the elements of a truly fantastic work, with the potential for years of entertainment.
Only a sucker would pass on this sure thing.