Riley Richards got it all… The hottest girl in school and a ticket to the big time. So why isn’t he happy now? Why can’t he forget the life he left behind in small town Brookview? And why is he plotting a murder?
COMICS BULLETIN says this ambitious CRIMINAL story does for kids comics “what Alan Moore did for superheroes with WATCHMEN” and now is your chance to read the comic everyone’s been talking about.
Introduction by best-selling author, actor, and stand-up comic Patton Oswalt.
Criminal: The Last of the Innocent, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips 8.25
In ‘The Last of the Innocent’, the most recent volume of ‘Criminal’, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips decided to stir the pot a little. Just a little. But just enough. Instead of hoods and other established criminals, we follow the story of Riley, a man who owes a debt and consequently comes up with a plan to make his own fortune.
This book is slightly different in that it focuses on the steps leading to our protagonist’s moral undoing. Unlike the other books, it has not established that from the onset: he does not have a shady past, is not a criminal, and he does not associate with any either – aside for his illegal gambling, which he does without anyone’s knowledge.
What is terrific is that there are hints of moral “flexibility” in Riley, but it’s only slowly revealed that he is anything but the social and professional success that he seems to be – that much of his life is about appearances, much in the way that Patrick Bateman‘s is. The difference is that he hasn’t been taken to the breaking point.
Yet. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips takes him there eventually, of course.
As we explore his vacuous big city existence, Brubaker and Phillips also take him back to his past in two forms: 1) by bringing him home for his father’s passing, reacquainting himself with old friends, and 2) via Archie Comics-style panels that express a nostalgic self-reflection on his previous life. These elements sow dreams of escape.
All he needs is a way out.
Out of the blue comes the “perfect” plan, which he doesn’t hesitate to implement. And then he watches the pieces fall, hoping that it all works out as intended. Not everything does, of course, but the reader can’t help but be surprised by the fallout – it’s not at all as one might have expected, leaving us with a moral ambiguity that’s disquieting.
What Brubaker does so beautifully here is that he crafts the character in a more complex fashion than most criminals are in such stories. He shows us the ease with which Riley takes on his dual personalities, becoming something he’s not, hiding his worries from everyone – including himself. He becomes trapped inside the perfect chameleon.
Phillips, meanwhile, does double duty at giving us the grit and the nostalgic. On the one hand, he continues to succeed with his realistic portrayals of the darker side of humanity, but on the other he gives us those two-dimensional cartoon panels to illustrate the gloss that memory paints over many of our recollections. It’s a superb combination.
I love that Brubaker and Phillips have fun breaking the rules from time to time, even if subtly. While they’ve put a fine, modern spin on the iconic noir genre, they aren’t necessarily bound by its conventions. This is one of the things that make this book such a tasty treat: we know to expect both the expected and the unexpected.
As of this writing, there are no other entries in the ‘Criminal’ series. However, a movie version of ‘Coward’ is under development, and Brubaker and Phillips are hard at work on their next project, ‘The Fade Out’, which is claimed to be similar in some fashion to ‘Criminal’. I can’t bloody wait. In the meantime, I will no doubt re-read the whole series.
It’s that good.