Just when you think Brubaker (the writer) and Phillips (the artist) could not possibly top the genius volume that was Lawless, they do. This is an incredible tale whose pieces fit together so perfectly it takes your breath away.
The cliff-hanger ending at the end of the first issue stuns you and takes you off in a direction you weren’t expecting, but is a perfect fit for the Criminal world Brubaker has created. The central character’s fate balances on a knife edge and you really have no idea how it will end. And when the end comes it might surprise you but it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
The undisputable star quality comes from a bold art decision. Through great writing we get to see who the characters truly are by seeing their childhoods. We are privy to the life changing decisions and experiences that formed who they are today.
There are many way to execute flashbacks such as these including black and white, colour casts, strange borders and so on. Phillips changes the art style completely to that of a children’s comic such as the famous “Archie” American comics. The characters become completely flat and two-dimensional with virtually zero depth and shading. The lines are super clean and the colours bright and vibrant. This is a definite contrast to the gritty black shading and hatching that is a trademark of the series. Even the lettering changes to a straighter, more upright font.
This high contrast style leaves no confusion over the timeline and point of view. It works so well that you can easily jump back to the past for a single frame. You can even mix present day into past memories for dream sequences. This isn’t the first time a change of art has signified past events. Stormwatch did an excellent past flashback featuring period art. What makes this so special is that the children’s comic style is perfect for expressing memories of childhood. Mixing the two narrative threads on the page is something that would only work in the comic book format and it takes a great talent to understand and use that quality.
Definitely the best in the series and a Double Thumbs up!
Tomorrow: Soldier Zero: Volume 1 – Paul Cornell