Criminal: The Last Of The Innocent #4 - 'Number Four' - Brubaker, Phillips and Stewart
Story - As a society, we in general like to see the bad guys get punished, we like to see 'em get what's coming. It's why the Hays Code, along with banning homosexuality and interracial kissing in movies, also made it a law that all criminal acts had to be punished, and that criminals should not elicit sympathy from the audience. Now of course that was the 1930s, society has moved on, but the rule generally still applies, in a story, we expect to see the criminal get somewhat of a comeuppance. Look at the reaction to AMC's The Killing when they didn't reveal who killed Rosie Larsen! This is why ever since Riley Richards killed his wife Felix at the end of Criminal: The Last Of The Innocent #2, I and many other readers have been waiting for the full weight of the law to come crashing down on Riley, and watching with bated breath as his plans spin out of control...
...except Brubaker swerved us. We have been conditioned to expect Riley to get punished. We saw his Father-In-Law's suspicions, we saw him hire the P.I Britt Black, we saw his alibi come under threat. But Riley still got away with it. At the end of this issue, Riley is rich, happy and has a new girlfriend, his life has been improved by the crime. This goes against everything the Hays Code stands for!
It was very surprising to see Riley get off scott-free, and for me, it shows again why Criminal is one of the best comics on the market, it never does what you expect, Whilst this wasn't quite up there with the twists at the end of the 'Bad Night' storyline, it was still great. I do have a few problems with it however. Brubaker introduced several possible threats to Riley's alibi in #3, most importantly a Private Detective, and I feel that the way that these threats were dealt with was a bit rushed, and that lessened the sense of danger. The same sense of the story being rushed was also present in the revelations about the Brookview Serial Killer in the past, Brubaker had not developed this background detail enough in previous chapters to deserve this payoff. I feel that perhaps this story would have been better served by being an issue longer. Brubaker has previously felt able to extend his stories if he needs to, Incognito went from 5 to 6 issues and I think Criminal: The Sinners was extended from 4 to 5. I feel he could have done the same with this one. But you never know, in the alternate world where this story is 5 issues, I'm probably complaining that it's too long.
So there are some problems here, but they aren't big ones, and these little niggles don't negate the surprise of Riley getting away with it.
But then I start to think... did Riley actually get away with it? Yes he's not in prison and he has money and a hot redhead girlfriend, but in the process of doing this he's sacrificed himself and his innocence. In one of the most heinous acts I've seen in a comic, he leaved a poisoned hot-shot for his best friend Freakout and killed him. He may be doing this to try and get back to how happy he was when he was a teenaged kid, but in doing so 3 of his friends from that time are now dead, Felix, Freakout and Teddy. This story was about more than just the crimes Riley commits in the here and now, it was about nostalgia, and how in reaching for your past you can only damage your present. Nostalgia can bedeadly, and in the world of Criminal, it literally is. Riley thought he could go back to his past and be happy, but he never can.
This was another great instalment of Criminal, and despite a few small plot problems, it had an impact on me and left me thinking about the nature of nostalgia and the nature of innocence long after I read it. This story was perhaps the most ambitious Criminal story so far, since it was about more than telling a great noir story, but exploring more theoretical and allegorical ideas, but whilst it's reach may have exceeded it's grasp, it was still excellent comics. There are few better. I suppose, just like Riley, Brubaker has gotten away with something he shouldn't.
Art - Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker are just the perfect combination, each word and each image are perfectly intertwined. I love every page these two work on together, whether it's Criminal, Sleeper, Incognito or Powerpuff Girls (note, Bru and Phillips have not actually done a Powerpuff Girls comic, but if they did, it would probably be really good). The thing that of course set this arc apart was that Phillips used different styles for the flashback sequences, using a cleaner line and a style reminiscent of Archie comics, and it's really great to see the two styles meld together at the end. I'm not quite sure what Riley and Lizzie turning into their cartoony selves means, it's another thing I've been puzzling over. Phillips is simply one of the best, and I can't wait for his next project.
Best Line - 'So now I can be whoever I want'