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

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