Where the saints never tread: Criminal #1 Review

Criminal #1
Sinners Part One?
By Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Colors by Val Staples
Published by ICON (Marvel Comics)

As I sit here staring at a blank page, I try to find the words to describe why Criminal is one of my favorite comic books of all time. For those that frequent the corners of the internet that I do you’ll know how much I’m into Ed and Sean’s work. Much of it I’m still discovering and believe me that’s only a good thing. As the title states it’s a book about the underbelly of society in all of its forms. There are no saints within these pages. This is pure crime noir at its finest.

Tracy Lawless is back. We’ve waited at least six months for this through the pulp-adventure crime series called Icognito. While I was a big fan of the comic, in the back of my mind I was counting down the minutes to Criminal‘s and Tracy’s return. It was well worth the wait. Tracy is working for Sebastian Hyde as a hitman and it turns out he’s not very good at it. He can kill. There’s no doubt of that at all. But he’s having a hard time killing because somebody tells him to. He’s gotta make sure they deserve it. In the end he squelches on some job and just turns into one big pain in the ass, as Hyde puts it.

Just as he’s about to get back on Hyde’s good side a fellow “co-worker” does the deed for him. He also brings a message. Hyde wants to see him.

Now what I can’t explain to you is the sequence of events in this comic. The number of panels per page that set a scene in a way only a movie can. The dialogue that Brubaker uses and Sean’s little nuances married with Val’s colors…it’s a sight to behold. It’s one thing for me to connect a series of pages or scenes but if you’re not looking at the comic itself there’s just no way I can get the point across. Anyone who loves a good movie from the 40s will instantly know what I’m talking about.

Through it all we see secondary characters that fans of the series know may end up center stage in future issues. Little Easter eggs that will make you come back to the stories in a whole other way after reading future issues. As Ed puts it this really isn’t a comic: it’s a crime magazine. In more ways than one.

Tracy is given a new job. A series of unsanctioned hits on untouchables have been happening in the past couple of weeks. Nobody knows who’s doing it and there aren’t any leads. If Tracy can pull this off his debt with Hyde is settled. He’s given the stack of police files acquired by Hyde from his “friends in low places” and Tracy is off. Because this is a slice of noir he heads to a diner to mull everything over. The Blue Fly Diner, which I hope we come back to in future issues, sets the scene where we’re treated to the series of hits in brutal fashion.

A priest, “the collector,” and a lieutenant. Let your mind run wild, folks. This is an Ed and Sean production. I refuse to ruin anything on these pages. My lips are sealed. I’m not a rat.

Tracy has been seeing somebody…

A cop, Joe Hill (looking very much like the real one) gets brutally murdered by the very people Tracy is after…

Then we end it all with a new player coming for Tracy who is just as big and determined as he is.

That’s all you get.

But this is a Criminal publication. See, I buy the monthly issues. I buy more monthlies than trades unless a title is scarce or too old to find the issues for. I love the format. What I don’t like are the trades that have the extra sketchbooks and such in the back. If you’ve read any of my personal interviews you’ll know that I love the content. I love all the behind-the-scenes production of the comics, perhaps even more so than the comic itself. But when you’re a reader that buys the monthly publication you’re essentially getting screwed when the trade comes out. I know people who buy both. I have no idea why. It just costs twice as much. I’m not talking Absolute Editions or anything special here. Just run-of-the-mill trade paperbacks.

With Criminal the monthly reader is rewarded. Each issue contains articles and reviews in the back about new books, in this case Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of “Parker,” or movies. We get both this issue, the movie being Killer Elite by Michael Stratford, who was also the producer for Ed’s Angel of Death series on Crackle.com (another which I reviewed here and here and loved wholeheartedly). They’re rather lengthy, too. I just feel like if we, the readers, are going to support comics month in and month out, sometimes paying through the nose, we should get a few extra pages of content. Not reprints. Not special one-shots. Substantial content. This is what will bring in the readers. I don’t think any other publication is doing what Criminal is doing these days and for that, guys, I salute you.

I apologize for my rant, folks, but I can’t say enough about how good this series is. I can’t tell you how many new books and films I’ve discovered because of it.

But you’re going to have to pick up the comic if you want to know anything about them. They won’t be in the trades.

Anthony Schiavino can be found talking comics, movies, television and all things pulp at his website PulpTone.com, Facebook, and Twitter


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