Monday, August 6, 2007

Criminal #8

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, known for collaborating on DC / Wildstorm’s Sleeper, are working together again in Criminal, which delivers issue eight to the shelves this week. For Brubaker, who’s been making a name for himself on superhero books of late, the series marks a triumphant return to crime-focused subject matter. But really, both creators have a great handle on telling these kinds of stories, lending a sort of authenticity and gritty realism to them without overdoing it.

In the vein of Sin City, each arc of Criminal features a different cast of characters. They inhabit the same world, share the same haunts and interact with the same people, though, so there’s that overlying sense of unity to tie the whole thing together. This particular issue focuses on Tracy and Mallory, a sort of reverse odd couple. Tracy, the introspective, emotional type, is the muscle of the operation, while Mallory is more collected, intelligent and spontaneous. They’re related strictly through their work, which happens to involve the relocation of a large amount of cash from a nearby ATM, although the relationship quickly moves forward from there.

Brubaker knows how to flesh out these characters: by the end of the issue, I felt like I’d known Tracy and Mallory for years. His finest gift is an excellent capacity for basing things in the real world. There’s no master plan for the theft that provides the initial spark for this story, just a fair amount of common sense, a little brawn and a plenty of personality. The characters don’t talk to each other like a pair of cardboard cutouts with a pre-recorded monologue, they chat like regular folks. Their moods shift, they misunderstand each other, they make fun… anything to take their minds off of the risky business at hand.

If you’re worried about jumping in midway through a story arc and losing all sense of direction, erase that thought from your mind. Although this issue is the third in a five part storyline, it functions wonderfully as a standalone tale of its own right. There’s enough going on in the background to pique your curiosity about what’s come before, though it’s never a big enough part of the tapestry to overshadow the main storyline.

The artwork of Sean Phillips provides an excellent counterpart to Brubaker’s script. In true crime noir fashion, much of the rendering is done by the shadows. Even surrounded by a glistening coat of fresh snow this city looks grimy, foreboding and intimidating. He lends each character a look and feel all their own, provides a nice variety of angles and visuals, works wonders with the concrete jungles in the backdrop, and doesn’t jump up and down screaming for your attention when he doesn’t need to. His work with Tracy is particularly great, as he’ll carry an entirely innocent expression in one panel, then shoot a glare like a pitbull backed up against the wall just a few pages later. Outstanding range, good grasp of the characters’ personalities… good stuff.

This is a great little crime book. It provides excellent pacing, strong characters, solid artwork that fits the mood and a good balance between gunfire and conversation. It’s got some adult content, so you’re going to want to keep it out of the kids’ hands, but it’s never gratuitous. Either buy this right now and savor the wait between issues or hold off for the collected edition and enjoy it all at once on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Just don’t forget about it, because books like this one deserve the attention.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 9

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