Summary: Twenty years ago, Tracy Lawless traded the crime-ridden streets of the city for a life in the military, and it’s a decision he’s rarely regretted. But now he’s walking out of the deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq and back into the world he grew up in, to find out who killed his brother Rick, and why. But truth is one of the few things uglier than family history, and the only thing Tracy has in his favor as he unravels the twisted strands of the criminal life his brother led, is that no one knows who the hell he is. And what they don’t know, just might kill them! Collects Criminal #6-10
Criminal: Lawless, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips 8.0
‘Lawless’ is the second volume in the ‘Criminal‘ series created by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. It takes place in and around Center City and its characters come from there. Each volume is an entire story arc, featuring a completely different protagonist and an unrelated plot. What ties the volumes together are minor connecting threads.
This particular story follows Tracy Lawless, eldest son in a family of hoods. In an attempt to escape a life of crime, he decided to enlist in the Army, only to find himself in all sorts of trouble overseas. Confined in solitary for a year and a half, he suddenly discovers that his kid brother has been dead for close to a year, found murdered in an alley.
Tracy decides to find Ricky’s killer. He goes AWOL and returns home, where he hasn’t been seen in years. With the help of an old connection, he fashion himself a new identity and decides to infiltrate Ricky’s old gang. In so doing, he believes he will be able to find out who betrayed and killed his brother – and then get his revenge.
Ed Brubaker wove a very tight story with ‘Lawless’. While it may appear generic at first glance, he has a knack for getting us into a characters’ heads and understanding what motivates them. This makes Tracy a much more interesting protagonist than he might seem given his background and lineage. He may not be a nice guy, but you get him.
Further to that, Brubaker does a terrific job of shuffling us in and out of the linear part of the story; he knows how to set a scene up, then go back and explain the back story, without even throwing the pace off at all. He’s an excellent storyteller – at least in the crime genre (as you may know, I have my reservations about his superhero stuff).
Of course, he’s part of the best tag team in years. Sean Phillips is as adept at telling a story visually as Brubaker is with words. His style is sketchy and short on detail, but it’s accurate: he frames everything and sets up all his pieces with the utmost skill. I can’t help but imagine that Brubaker’s scripts would lack weight with any other artist.
Something I really liked about this book, and which was only hinted at, is the way in which the first and second books are connected: Leo has a miniscule cameo and is referred to, Tracy also frequents the same bar (run by the same bartender). There are likely more subtle threads, such as visual ones, but I didn’t catch them.
However, now I’m looking forward to the next volume with much anticipation. The first two volumes have been very good, and I would love to read another of that caliber. Beyond that, I’m very curious to see how Brubaker and Philips form and shape Central City over time. The way they’re started, it looks like they’re creating a whole new (under)world.