Overview

Criminal Volume 2 #4

Review

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Criminal Volume 2 #4

Credits

  • Words: Ed Brubaker
  • Art: Sean Phillips
  • Inks: Sean Phillips
  • Colors: Val Staples
  • Story Title: Bad Night: Part One
  • Publisher: Icon/Marvel Comics
  • Price: $3.50
  • Release Date: Aug 6, 2008

After an act of violence in a diner, an insomniac cartoonist with a checkered past acts as Good Samaritan to a pretty young woman.

Crime fiction is often spoiled for me because of many writers’ reliance upon a nihilistic, tough as nails protagonist, hardened by the streets, and unfazed by the horrors of murder, mayhem and violence. The latest issue of Criminal not only avoids that stereotype, it satirizes it by having as its main character a broken man whose occupation is the chronicler of the hardboiled Frank Kafka P.I., a newspaper comic. Jacob is recovering from the death of his wife, and a past that includes counterfeiting. He is typical of the lonely, lost souls whose ambition has been stripped from them by the cruel fates. After witnessing a domestic dispute in a diner, where the tough boyfriend is taken out by a tougher diner chef, Jacob ends up picking up the hitchhiking woman. She might prove to be his redemption, or his ultimate destruction.

A decade ago, before my long hiatus from reading comics, my favorite title was Hellblazer and my favorite Hellblazer artist was Sean Phillips. His style of slightly dirty rendering perfectly captured the seedy London of John Constantine, and is even better in Criminal, capturing the mood of the drug infested, sketchy city with little hope. His artwork is typified by a very liberal application of blacks, and scratchy ink lines, with even the panel borders slightly messy. His characters are very naturalistic, with stubble, and double chins and other imperfections that seldom find their way to the usual slickly rendered comic book page. You can almost share the back pain that Jacob suffers with since recovering from an accident. It's nice to see Phillips hasn't missed a beat in ten years. Even the captions are not bordered with entirely straight lines. Touches like these transport the reader into the slightly uncomfortable world of crime noir.

Brubaker's scripting is excellent. He is certainly working within the genre, with first person narration, ready violence, and a femme fatale, but his dialogue and characterizations are honest and not contrived. Jacob's vulnerability makes him very likable, and accessible, much more than the slick talking private investigator that usually narrates crime dramas. The story he has crafted is straightforward and simple, but with enough mystery to carry us into future issues.

The magazine also provides some extra features, including a review of a film noir classic called Night and the City, the only crime film featuring the warped world of professional wrestling as its subject. Also included is an interview by Ed Brubaker of Charles Ardai, publisher of Hard Case Crime novels. Along with a letters page, a feature slowly disappearing from serial comics, these prose pieces and the comic story create a solid, satisfying package, well worth the $3.50 cover price. I may have found my new favorite comic series.

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