Criminal, vol. 1

CowardSummary: From Harvey Award-Winning Best Writer Ed Brubaker, and Scream Award-Winning Best Artist Sean Phillips comes the first collection of Criminal, one of the best reviewed comics of 2006. Coward is the story of Leo, a professional pickpocket who is also a legendary heist-planner and thief. But there’s a catch with Leo, he won’t work any job that he doesn’t call all the shots on, he won’t allow guns, and the minute things turn south, he’s looking for any exit that won’t land him in prison. But when he’s lured into a risky heist, all his rules go out the window, and he ends up on the run from the cops and the bad men who double-crossed him. Now Leo must come face-to-face with the violence he’s kept bottled up inside for 20 years, and nothing will ever be the same for him again. Collects Criminal #1-5.

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Criminal: Coward, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips 8.0

“Coward” is a story arc from the Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips series ‘Criminal’. I’m not wholly versed on this series, but it appears that it has been publishing a variety of mostly-unrelated crime stories since 2006. They all take place in the same city, some of the characters and locations are shared, but they chiefly follow different protagonists and plots.

This one follows the story of Leo Patterson, a thief whose skill was developed by his own criminal father, as well as his partner, Ivan. After a short prologue, which sets up Leo’s past history and reputation as a coward, we find him planning a significant heist with the help of an old “friend” and his partner-in-crime, a crooked cop.

Burdened by Ivan, whom he takes care of in his old age, and wary of his accomplices, whom he does not trust at all, he plans the heist so as to counter their likely double-cross. But he hasn’t planned for all contingencies, and things spin wildly out of control. Leo will be left trying to pick up the pieces after the plan doesn’t go quite as he’d conceived it.

Brubaker does it again.

As can be expected, he’s fleshed out his characters just enough that we understand what they’re about, but not so much that they can’t surprise us in some fashion. He also built a very solid crime story, centered around a plausible and well-constructed plan. With this book, he’s doing what he does best: a self-contained, original tale.

I suspect that this will carry on with future volumes (or story arcs) of this series. Where Brubaker usually stumbles is when he tries to stretch out a story beyond its original parameters (ex: ‘Fatale‘) or work within the constraints of someone else’s edicts, like when he has to adapt pre-existing characters (ex: ‘Captain America‘ and ‘Doctor Doom‘).

With only his own imagination and few constraints placed upon him, he can usually go to town and write up a totally engaging, credible story that reads extremely well. At least, such is my humble assessment, having only read a handful of his oeuvre thus far. I will know more as I continue to explore his works. Which I no doubt will.

As for Phillips, he continues to be the perfect pairing for Brubaker’s writing – at least in the context of his crime works. I can’t imagine Phillips doing any of the superhero stuff (aside from ‘Sleeper‘ and ‘Incognito‘), but he has a flair for making Brubaker’s scripts look appropriately gritty, unpolished. His style of art doesn’t impress me, but this partnership does.

Aside from Canales and Guarnido, I can’t think of a better writer-artist duo in the comics and graphic novels that I’ve read in recent years. When I pick up a Brubaker/Phillips piece, I know that I am set for some quality work. And, having only just started ‘Criminal’, I get the impression that this will be a solid series.

It certainly has started on the right foot with “Coward”.

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