Criminal, vol. 3

Criminal 3Summary: Winner of the Eisner Award for Best New Series, and Winner of the Harvey and Eisner Awards for Best Writer! The third collection of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ critically-acclaimed noir series follows a different twist of the knife this time — telling three interlinking stories that take place during the early 1970s and swirl around the fate of a hard-luck Femme Fatale, a boxer and a thief and killer just home from Vietnam. Each story is told from a different narrative point-of-view, so we can see the varied secrets and hidden desires that ultimately lead to a lot of murder and mayhem. Collecting Criminal Volume 2 #1-3


Criminal: The Dead and the Dying, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips 8.25

How can it be possible? How could Brubaker and Phillips change the established format of their series, ‘Criminal’, mid-stream and actually improve on it? Is it just a fluke? Did they merely get lucky this time, with this collection of stories?

Only time will tell.

But the fact remains that, although previous books were focused on telling one story in five volumes, this one features only three volumes – each telling a different story. And yet it works. Somehow, Brubaker and Phillips made a smooth transition.

Perhaps what helps is that all three stories are inter-connected and entwined with the previous two volumes. In so doing, they don’t feel like disjointed single issues. If anything, they appear to be parts of a larger whole, of a more fully realized (under)world.

Conversely, they also serve to flesh out the world that the pair had already created together. Some of the people referenced in previous books are suddenly fleshed out, giving us more of an understanding of what took place in ‘Coward‘ and ‘Lawless‘.


In our first story, we follow Jake, a boxer who was the childhood friend of the heir of the Hyde crime family. Having grown apart over the years, he finds himself pulled back in when he crosses paths with a girl that once caught his eye – and feels guilty for. This story painted a clear picture of the dangers involved in associating with criminal elements, of how unforgiving this can be.

The second story follows Teeg, a small-time hood who returns from Vietnam as damaged goods. Most of his time in Center City is blacked out by booze and drugs and he ends up in more trouble than he’d imagined – having stolen from the wrong people. There begins a slippery slope to undo the damage done. Here we get to know the father of our main character from the previous book.

The final story follows Danica, a young woman who has had run-ins with the Hyde family over the years, leaving her mortally wounded, incapable of dealing with her fate. Now a heroin junkie and a moll, she weaves in and out of the book at various instances. Here, her backstory is properly explained, shedding light into the course of events that have led her to the grittiest corners of Center City.

It’s a superb collection of well-written and conceived short stories.

My only problem with of this book is the simplistic justification for Danica’s addiction to heroin. There seemed to be other ways, more complex areas to explore than this. But perhaps I don’t understand a junkie’s mind one bit. Anyway, that left me unimpressed..

Otherwise, though, Brubaker has once again crafted a terrific book. And, more than ever, I feel like it comes together very nicely; we get a completely three-dimensional world with real, breathing people – all dregs of society, but real people nonetheless.

Phillips’ artwork is excellent as always: immersed in shadows, blacked out with ink, it’s as though that world never sees the light of day. This is entirely appropriate, of course, and Phillips makes Center City reflect the murky, dangerous criminal underworld it harbours.

So far, with this ‘Criminal’ series, Brubaker and Phillips have created a phenomenal anthology of crime stories. Aside from the ‘Blacksad‘ and ‘Parker‘ books, there is nothing better that I’ve ever read. And I don’t even like crime fiction that much, usually.

Together, however, the pair manage to make the most unsavoury and unscrupulous people worth reading about, renders them utterly fascinating.

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