Brubaker and Phillips’ Last of the Innocent has the ignominious distinction of being the Criminal arc with the strongest start and easily the weakest resolution. The basic story centers on Riley, a somewhat psychopathic guy who regrets marrying a vapid, rich bitch and passing over his high-school sweetheart. When he learns of his wife’s affair, he decides to murder her for her money and cover up his crime by making it look as though she were the victim of a serial killer. To provide himself an alibi, he encourages his troubled friend Freakout to fall off the wagon and indulge in a night of heavy drinking. Riley commits the murder after Freakout has passed out.
This issue, the fourth and final one of the arc, provides a few new twists and turns as Riley tries to maintain the appearance of innocence. But none of these twists is very compelling. Riley’s biggest challenge is trying to convince his authoritarian father-in-law that he had nothing to do with the murder. The father-in-law’s suspicions are so profound, however, that the old man hires a thuggish private investigator to uncover dirt on Riley. This PI subplot is weak and, frankly, feels tacked on. At no point does it appear that Riley is in real danger of being found out as the true murderer. Perhaps the problem is that the father’s suspicions are raised at the very end of the third chapter and can only be explored quickly in the final chapter. Bru has simply focused too little attention on this part of the story to give it sufficient weight and importance. He has, it seems, padded the story rather than developed it further.
The plot has another major weakness. At the end of this issue, we learn that Freakout knows that Riley’s behind the killing. How he knows is somewhat convoluted. And the details aren’t particularly important. But he explains that he knew the identities of the real serial killers. Apparently, during a drug binge years ago, he had stumbled past the window of two lovers who planned to kill an inconvenient husband. They knew that if they killed the husband outright that they would attract suspicion unto themselves. Therefore, they decided to conduct a string of unrelated killings to obscure their real motive. I have seen this plot device used one too many times, in various ways, in all kinds of crime stories -- including an early episode of Ironside. It’s an overused plot point, one that Bru should have avoided unless he’d planned to use it in some clever, innovative way.
I could go on and mention other problems I have with the story. But the bottom line is that this final chapter of Criminal is cluttered and rambling and, worse, it lacks all suspense. It’s a boring book, without any emotional impact.
Phillips’ art is excellent, as always. But it is not enough to save this book. I’m deeply disappointed by the way Bru has neglected Criminal over the last few years, putting out rather mediocre arcs in between his Incognito projects. I would say that I’m about ready to quit Criminal. But with the announcement of the 12-issue Fatale series starting in January 2012, it looks as though Bru has already quit this book. Perhaps that is a good thing.