Criminal is back with a brand new story that focuses its noir lens on comics itself!
Credits & Solicit Info:
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The best-selling crime comic finally returns, and with their most ambitious story yet. Obsession, sex, money, murder, and nostalgia for days long past all collide in The Last of the Innocent.
Riley Richards has it all... The hottest girl in school and a ticket to the big time–so why isn't he happy now? Why is he getting involved in gambling, drugs, and shady characters in the city? Why can't he forget the life he left behind in small town Brookview? And why is he suddenly plotting murder?
As always, each issue of Criminal contains unique back-up features, articles and artwork, which are only available in the single issues.
Few American institutions this side of baseball are as informed by nostalgia for its own past as the comic book industry. When reading all the many ongoing decades-old comic book franshises out there, it's difficult not to come across something that somehow trades on its own past. The ecosystem of the modern long-running comic book actively filters the past through a contemprary lens in an effort to find a way to make everything fit together (an odd thing to think about, now that DC Comics has announced they are effectively wiping out much of their own publishing past in order to start over with a brand new present, in order to look to the future).
Consider the newest story in Ed Brubaker's and Sean Phillips' Criminal series. If The Last of the Innocent, the latest first issue, is any indication, the pair are set to examine comics as a tool of nostalgia; and the ways in which the past colors our current condition. It's as much a comic book about comics (note the Wertham-evoking titles) as it is about a man frustrated by the life he feels trapped in. The plot is your standard Criminal fare, but each story in the series has it's own unique hook to make it distinctive, and The Last of the Innocent has a particularly strong one. The Archie Andrews-esque Riley Richards comes home to the small town of Brookview, his own little Riverdale, as his father lies on his deathbed. Once there, all his memories of a misspent youth come rushing back in panels rendered by Phillips in his spin on the Archie house style.
This effect is probably what will get most people talking, but the fact is this issue on the whole shows Phillips at his most cinematic and compelling. His page design lends itself to some greatly organic storytelling and flow. Granted that's always true, especially in the last few years since he started Criminal, but in the first issue of The Last of the Innocent, his sense of movement and use of time are particularly strong. Meanwhile, Val Staples continues to excel. The added dimension in his colors really make Criminal a singular reading experience in comics today. He gets to show off his versatility in this issue in a way he normally doesn't get to with this series, specifically in the way he renders the brightness of the past (the "Archie scenes") as contrasted with the general shadowy dourness of the modern Criminal world. It's always great to see Staples get a chance to cut loose a little bit, especially with this book.
Ed Brubaker has a deceptively difficult job with this story. Using Archie analogues could get distracting, and he's not completely successful in avoiding this pitfall; but he does go beyond simply making familiar things dark and unfortunate for its own sake. Instead, he utilizes that old Archie aesthetic to express that very universal feeling of "What the hell were we doing back then?" We've all looked back on those days in high school where we smoked a little too much pot and did something stupid. Or we remember dry humping behind the school, not wanting to admit that we don't understand our own bodies at all. It stands to reason that the Archie characters would feel the same way, were they ever to grow up. The fact is, the good old days were never all that idyllic, no matter how much of a vibrant sheen we put on them in our memories. Brubaker's story puts forth this notion effectively and he uses is to drive the plot of Last of the Innocent. The disparate elements of Riley Richards' introspection all come together in the final pages of this first issue, leading to another one of those tortured spirals that lead to its main character making a fateful decision - a feature that always makes Criminal so compelling.
The Last of the Innocent is being billed as the "most ambitious" story in the Criminal series so far, and this may be an instance where a comic actually lives up to its own solicitation. Using the parlance and grammar of comics to express the effects nostalgia has upon the mind is a great idea, and Brubaker, Phillips, and Staples put together an excellent first issue here.
Review by: Royal Nonesuch