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THE BEST CRIME COMIC OF ALL TIME, PERIOD.
on October 16, 2012
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have a perfect marriage, and you know how I mean that. All of their collaborations have borne some pretty exquisite fruit. From GOTHAM NOIR to the deconstructive brilliance of the SLEEPER books, to the pulp anarchy of INCOGNITO, to the more recent noirish horror of FATALE, you're getting some of the best writing and art that comics have had to offer over the last decade or so. And then, there's CRIMINAL. CRIMINAL is a comic that combines hard-hitting drama, bloody violence, underworld intrigue, steamy sex, and gritty realism. Make no mistake, while Frank Miller's SIN CITY may be a kind progenitor to this particular brand of crime comics, that exists in a much more highly-stylized hyper-realistic yet unrealistic world. And this particular collection of CRIMINAL has the very best arc this few-degrees-of-separation comic has yet to offer as well as some other incredibly powerful works by the pair.
"Bad Night", the first arc this volume has to offer, is the tale of Jacob, the rather timid writer and illustrator of the "Frank Kafka, P.I." comic strips that have made appearances in the "Coward" and the "Lawless" arcs of this comic. He's pulled into a web of deceit by a sultry femme fatale and her thuggish partner as they find out a secret in his past that leads him to a deadly confrontation. Part of the story device that Brubaker employs in this arc is that Jacob finds himself consulting his fictional hard-boiled detective for advice, and acts as a narrator for his own tale. It's something that's a lot of fun to read, as well as being very suspenseful, but lacking a little in emotional conflict.
"The Sinners" brings us back to the world of Tracy Lawless, whose own brutal and unforgiving arc was one of this series' best works. This time, Tracy has to deal with a series of murders amongst the upper echelons of crime in CRIMINAL's nameless city, which, if the killers aren't found, may cause the city to erupt in a massive and bloody gang war. If that isn't enough, the Army has sent one of its investigators to bring Lawless in for his desertion. This all leads to a reveal about the killers that is truly shocking, and has a punch that will leave its mark on the CRIMINAL universe forever. This arc is another small classic for Brubaker and Phillips.
"The Last of The Innocent" is the last arc in this collection, and believe me when I tell you that they saved the best for last. Riley Richards seems to have a pretty excellent life. Beautiful wife, good job at her father's successful company, but all this changes when he has some debts to the Hyde syndicate and when he discovers that his wife has been cheating on him. All of this, naturally, can be solved by her murder and the proper frame-up that involves the people of Riley's past. A past he longs to have once again. Unlike the protagonists of CRIMINAL's other arcs, this is about the everyman who turns into a killer not because he's pushed to do so or for revenge; this is something that he chooses. He allows amorality and ruthlessness to become who he is in order to get the life and love he left behind in his past back. This is a tale less of the likes of Mickey Spillane or Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. This seems very influenced by Jim Thompson, possibly the greatest, and certainly the most twisted crime novelist who ever lived. The art style that Phillips occasionally adopts is that of an ARCHIE comic when he shows a flashback, showing the past that these characters inhabited under a much lighter tone but still with a seriousness and a bleakness that informs the reader that they're really looking to turn the genre on its ear a bit here. The result is a perfectly-told tale of one man's descent into a hell of his own making. The ending is one of a very nihilistic hope, which is contradictory to be sure, but when you read it, you'll understand what I mean.
"Bad Night": 4.5/5
"The Sinners": 4.5/5
"The Last of the Innocent": 10/5 (yes, it's that good.)
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