Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips
Colouring by: Val Staples
I’m going to go ahead and assume that you’ve read my review of Volume 1 before coming here. As such, I’ll try to avoid covering the same ground.
This 440-page effort, another hardcover (again, I’m reviewing a PDF, visit your local comic shop to give it a feel for the quality, as long as you’ve washed your hands, of course), collects three more arcs of the Criminal saga. Image published Volume 3 last year: Volumes 1 and 2 are Image’s redux of previously published volumes. We get three more stories (again readable separate but part of the same large narrative for bonus flavour) and a stack of bonus bits.
Bad Night tells us about Jacob, the comic strip writer and counterfeiter from the very first Criminal story. Jacob recounts his brushes with the law amid a lousy situation where he’s coerced into making a fake FBI ID. I guess these are all cautionary tales to some extent, this one in part being ‘be careful where you put your penis’. I’ll leave the rest to the reading, but this is another excellent crime story from the team with some great references to other works. Sometimes you have to tip your hat what you see clever storytelling, and you will.
The Sinners brings back Tracy Lawless from the last volume, now working as a hitman for Sebastian Hyde. Tracy gets given a chance for a clean break – all he has to do is work out who is carrying out assassinations of people who should be untouchable. Simples. Except for the same problem as above, i.e. ‘be careful where you put your penis’, such as, not in your boss’s wife. And while he’s looking for answers, the US Army are looking for him. We get some crossed wires, some old associates, some more bent cops, a tricolore of gangsters and the Catholic church (insert your own joke here, readers) all contributing to Tracy’s absolute mess of a life. The layers of set-up are impressive, and of course, everyone involved believes in an eye for an eye, so we get quite the body count once again. You might find yourself checking back to see who’s who, but while it’s complex, it never feels convoluted.
Ed Brubaker describes The Last Of The Innocent as the work he is most proud of, and admits that there’s a little bit of autobiography weaved in there. The characters are analogous to retro teen comic tropes, and we get panels and the occasional full age of Archie style art for flashbacks, which is a great touch. Riley is back in small-town America, having lived in the big city for a while, and we see him meeting the old gang, and there’s plenty of reminiscing. And then his dad dies. Many people die in Criminal, but this is the only funeral we really see, and you might feel things. This story touches on a lot of little things about grieving that I’ve not seen in any media before. Aside from that, Riley is planning a murder, which I assume is either the non-autobiographical bit or a genius alibi. You’ll have to find out for yourself how that goes. You might not look at Archie the same way again.
As before, Criminal mixes up classic crime drama tropes with a touch of 70s cop show, gangster films and, at times, a touch of Sin City style noir. The protagonists are bad people you want to root for. The bad guys have motivations outside of being monsters. It’s well written, well drawn and well worth your time.