Criminal: Coward – Ed Brubaker

Before superheroes people read comics about crime. Proper old-school noir comics which featured the words gumshoe and caper. That genre has all but disappeared but makes a welcome return here.

Fusing old school Dick Tracy and original Oceans’ Eleven with modern day examples such as Heat and Pulp Fiction this tale is a real treat. Told in the classic style of alternating third-person action with first person narration we follow a lone criminal with a code who undertakes one last heist which goes as wrong as they always do.

It twist and turns then shocks and awes you but always in moderation and only when appropriate. Overall the pacing is unhurried and the central monologue does a great job of slowing the pace and building up tension. It is a tale that has been told a thousand times but this is certainly one of the better recitals. There are just enough hints at the past to flesh out the central character and you certainly grow to like him quickly. Other than an all too convenient character introduction that feels a bit leftfield this is an excellent work. As a standalone story the writer has the freedom to really shake things up and doesn’t pull any punches.

The art is appropriate to the style pushing the dim and dingy to the max and using heavy black shadows and thick outlines copiously. It definitely feels like vintage Batman era stuff. There isn’t a lot of detail but the characters are all well defined and there are some great facial expressions when necessary. It sticks rigidly to the three tier grid system with many thin panels per line packing a lot in per page. Virtually every panel has a person and speech in it yet it never feels too wordy or cluttered. Noir is all about dramatic and relevant conversation and this hits the nail on the head.

There is also a tale within a tale with the occasional appearance of a newspaper strip featuring a private detective. It’s not the Black Freighter of Watchmen but a nice little in-joke for those who care to smile at it.

Other than a well plotted narrative there are some nice nods to previous classics with a great Italian Job reference. This is a very worthwhile read that ticks all the boxes. Thumbs Up!

84/281.

Tomorrow: Criminal: Lawless – Ed Brubaker

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