Tag Archives: Crime

Book of the week: Criminal. The Last of the Innocents #3

I’ve had a good week. I’ve won a comic book (Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #1), what’s better than free comics? Thanks to Freaking Awsome Network, Image comics and creators Mark Andrew Smith and Armand Villavert!!! This week reviews of Criminal and a whole lot of Marvel comics: SHIELD, Captain America & BuckyGladstone’s #4, Walking Dead, X-men etc…

1. Criminal. The Last of the Innocents #3(Icon)

The creative team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips continues to amaze. I’ve been a fan of theirs since I first read Sleeper (published by Wildstorm). While I don’t enjoy Brubaker’s mainstream stuff nearly as much, mostly every work by Phillips is perfect as far as I am concerned. I think I’ve read the first three volumes of Criminal and lost interest somewhere along the way. This latest volume however (The Last of the Innocents), seems to have reinvigorated the series. It has certainly reinvigorated my interest in it.

The previous volumes of Criminal have been loosely interconnected continuity-wise. As far as I can tell though, The Last of the Innocents thus far stands alone. As I wrote in my review of the second issue, Criminal tells stories about characters making some morally reprehensible decisions. Case in point is Riley Richards, the main character in this story, in good noir storytelling fashion, we watch the story unfold though his eyes. In the first issue we came to know him as a successful urban banker. In his private life however, things have been looking down for a long time. His marriage is a joke, he knows his wife is cheating and he’s badly in dept to a loan shark. Additionally he has become estranged from his friends and family in his hometown Brookview. At the end of the first issue he devises a plan to ease his woes: kill his wife and pay his dept with her money. In the second issue, that’s exactly what he does, and in this issue we follow him on the day after the murder. As it turns out Riley is a conniving son of a bitch, who doesn’t shy away from killing his spouse or manipulating his best friends to obtain an alibi (even if this messes up the sobriety of his recovering junkie best friend). Although his plan was well thought out and executed perfectly, in this issue some cracks start to show and we also learn that his father-in-law is pointing a private detective at him, because he suspects Riley’s hiding something.

Art by Sean Philips, from Criminal. the last of the Innocents #3.

Art by Sean Philips, from Criminal. the last of the Innocents #3.

Not only is Ed Brubaker responsible for making Captain America cool, his most important qualities are his fascination with pulp noir stories (be prepared for some narration through caption boxes) and the sublime way he writes morally grey characters. This last asset is what the Criminal series revolves around. A fun little fact is that he has always wanted to write for Archie, and in this series every character is an analogue for an Archiecharacter.

Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker channeling Archie comics in Criminal. The Last of the Inocents #3.

Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker channeling Archie comics in Criminal. The Last of the Inocents #3.

If you are accustomed to Sean Phillips’ art style you’ll agree at how well it fits the dark, sometimes macabre, sometimes desperate stories that are told in this series. I wouldn’t do the artist any justice to compare him with others, because his style is both very unique and ever-changing. This has never been truer than in this volume of Criminal where the flashbacks are told in the wholesome style of the good old Archie comics. I don’t think I’ve seen Phillips flex these kind of muscles before, but he pulls it off wonderfully. As far as I can tell, Archie comics should add Sean Phillips to their stable of artists. This change of art style provides the story with some comedic relief, while also adding to the feeling of lost innocence as referred to, in the title of this series. It’s not just the dirty Archiepages that made this book my pick of the week though. The pages that tell the story of Riley in the here-and-now are amazing as well.

Sean Philips is a master of facial expressions. Art from Criminal. The last of the Innocents #3, published by Icon.

Sean Philips is a master of facial expressions. Art from Criminal. The last of the Innocents #3, published by Icon.

I was stunned by Phillips’ effective use of different types of body language and facial expressions. Especially in this story where the protagonist is lying through his teeth and (flat-out acting each time he’s in public), it’s a huge benefit that the artist is a master in facial expressions. The reader can clearly witness the different faces Riley puts on in different surroundings. I’m very curious to see how this story concludes.
Art: 9.5                       Writing: 9.5    Overall: 9.5

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Runners up of week 32: Red Skull 2, Red Wing 2, Criminal. Last of the innocents 2

2. Red Skull: Incarnate #2 (Marvel comics)
As a historian myself, and having studied Nazi Germany for a while, I have to tip my hat to Greg Pak for the amount of authenticity he manages to seep into his writing. The amount of research he must have done, must be ridiculous, as well as the way he must have critically edited his own writing and the incoming art from Mirko Colak. This may sound off-putting, but this is no graphic novel historic documentary, it’s a typical comic book, just as you’d expect, only damned good. With the Captain America movie in theaters all around the world Marvel can’t be blamed to publish a Red Skull origin just now. But this is not just another cash cow. It’s a very well executed story, that may have been in the pipeline longer then the movie and tells the story of young Johan Schmitt, the boy that will one day become the Red Skull. The story plays out in 1930’s Germany, where they know what a real financial crisis feels like. Poor, little, red haired Johan is given a rough start at life, and in this heart wrenching tale we see a shade of grey, who may have turned white, slowly turn darker, and darker.
Art: 8.5 Writing: 9.5       Overall: 9

3. The Red Wing #2 (Image comics)
This high concept tale of tie fighter, time traveling high jinks keeps delivering in the quality department! Great art, great writing telling a great story, in an overall fine package. Without spoiling, I really can’t say too much about this book. The one cadet following in the footsteps of his father, who’s missing in action time (and presumed dead) has some issues, while the reader learns that the father’s story is far from over. The concept of time and time travel, get explained to a time traveling fighter pilot, who doesn’t really get it himself. While, this may sound intellectually challenging, even with your brain turned off, in the most passive reading mode, the given explanation turns out to be just as entertaining as it is compelling. This book contains a couple of short pages containing prose, companioned with an illustration. Contrary to some of writer Jonathan Hickman’s earlier work however, it fits seamlessly into the story. The end of this issue has a cliffhanger I could not have foreseen, and I am very much interested to see how this is explained and dealt with. Also, check out the Comic Minute from the first issue of The Red Wing:
[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/hPFugszCcwI.html width=”480″ height=”385″]
Art:9 Writing:9 Overall:9

4. Criminal. The last of the Innocents #2 (Icon)
If you hate stories with despicable protagonists, then stay clear from this series. Or better yet, stay clear from the whole line of Criminal books by Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips, because every one of its main characters have something seriously wrong in their head.  Take for instance this series’ ‘hero’ Riley Richards, he has a lousy marriage, knows his wife is cheating on him, his best friend is a recovering junkie, and he has gotten used to a costly lifestyle that has led him to make debts at the address of some gangster. The only way out of his problems, he decides is to kill his wife and that’s what he sets out to do in this issue. He thinks everything through, and even creates a strong alibi by orchestrating the falling off of the wagon of his best friend. When said friend falls down unconscious, Riley’s alibi will be that he has been with him all night, taking care of him, while in reality he was out killing his wife. Sounds pretty rough, right? Fortunately, this miserable plot is interspersed with little flashback vignettes about Riley’s past in his wholesome hometown Brookview, which are drawn in the Archie style. These ‘dirty Archie’ tales provide both some breathing space in this dark and macabre story, as well as deepening the emotional implications of what Riley is doing. Also, a lovely cover by Sean Philips.
Art: 8.6 Writing: 9           Overall: 8.8