BF Awards 2011 - Best Limited Series: Criminal: Last of the Innocent

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There can never be enough Criminal from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. 

2011 marked the return of the critically acclaimed and fan-beloved series, which proved to be another offering of great noir storytelling brought to life by a fresh style of art.  Criminal: Last of the Innocent broke the rules and broke new ground, making it the Best Limited Series of the Year.

Criminal: Last of the Innocent’s all too brief four issues follow the unhappily married Riley as he realizes the surest and quickest way to return to happiness is murder his wealthy, bombshell wife, Felix.  Riley’s choice to succumb to murder is revealed in the cliffhanger of the very first issue, making Brubaker’s task of maintaining interest throughout the remainder series much more difficult than ever before.  Though readers know exactly how "Last of the Innocent" is likely to play out, Brubaker keeps the series fresh and engaging by developing a robust cast of characters to a new level of depth, with each character’s actions leading to numerous unintended and unforeseen consequences.  Riley, his closest childhood friend, Freakout, and his rekindled love interest, Lizzie, read like full-fledged characters Brubaker has been building for years.  Much of the series is spent in the close-knit group’s past as each character recalls the crucial and critical events that directed their lives towards their current standings.  Riley and Freakout’s relationship stands out as incredibly strong and well established due to the countless memories they share as innocent children and teenagers experimenting with drugs, making their downfall all the more shocking and heart-wrenching.   

Sean Phillips’ art always sets the tone for Criminal; the heavy emphasis on shadows and inks, and the intricately detailed settings that look to be lifted out of the most seedy streets and bars in the noir genre carry just as much of the story as Brubaker’s words.  In "Last of the Innocent", however, Phillips completely breaks tradition.  As Brubaker turns the focus to the past, brightly colored pencils reminiscent of Archie Comics take over and turn the noir book completely topsy-turvy, reinforcing childhood connections Riley and his “pals” made.  It is entirely possible that with any other artist this approach could have completely ruined the flow of the title, yet instead it solidified the bonds between the characters and added an extra level of emotional context to the series’ ending.

Criminal: Last of the Innocent is a complex and focused character-driven series, with each panel and page being utilized to the best of the duo’s ability.  For being only four issues, Last of the Innocent is so steeped in its own characters, their histories, choices, betrayals, and ultimate downfalls, it truly is a testament to Brubaker and Phillips’ skill as storytellers that it reads so clearly and concisely.  Not only was the title a fantastic tale of jealousy, lust, and treachery, it attempted and succeeded in trying something new, a rarity among such well established creators.

Full list of the 2011 Broken Frontier Award winners

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  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Jan 20, 2012 at 9:54am

    This would be my favourite of all the criminal mini's. Something about this one just clicks perfectly with my own personal noir mindset. Very intense work.

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