Criminal: Lawless – Ed Brubaker

An ex-criminal returns home to discover who killed his brother. Incognito he infiltrates his brother’s old gang in order to get some answers. Along the way he gets mixed up in more than he bargained for.

There are comics writers who are imaginative, creative, witty, political, astute, but very few who are great writers. In addition to being gifted technically Brubaker understands language. He makes it flow effortlessly; balancing its cadences and weaving it so fluently it becomes transparent. His use of third person narration works wonderfully and contrasts very well with the previous volume’s first person voice-over.

He is also a plot magician who keeps more balls in the air than you think possible. He lays invisible seeds behind your back that burst into bloom at exactly the right moment. Nothing is forced, contrived or gratuitous. This is the smoothest ride you will ever read.

Here is a story you could tell a hundred ways but Brubaker’s is flawless. We have a murder mystery, a crime caper, a thriller, a family lament and a wonderful character study. For most writers this would be too many balls to juggle but not in this case. There are also some wonderful references and cameos from the previous book and it really rewards the loyal reader. There is intricate world-building at play and you know the next volume will be even richer by growing out of this shared continuity.

The art is excellent. The harsh shadows from the last volume are gone and this one has a wonderfully muted feel symbolic of the lead character’s loss. There are some showcase moments such as a police car chase through the snow with some incredible red and blue colour casts. The style is wonderfully cinematic and the characters are all drawn with a unique look.

Even if, like me, you think a crime story would hold no interest for you whatsoever force yourself to buy this book. The sheer literary skill on display here is exceptional. This truly is the best of the best – a proper Double Thumbs Up!

85/280.

Tomorrow: Criminal: The Dead and The Dying – Ed Brubaker

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