Criminal returns, and so does Tracy Lawless, for another hard-boiled Noir classic. Goddamn, it's good. No foolin'
Criminal: The Sinners #1
Written By Ed Brubaker
Artwork By Sean Phillips and Val Staples
Criminal is probably the best comic around these days, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips come together to craft crime stories unlike anything else that has been done in comics, and rivals the best in film and novels. While their Pulp-Tinged Incognito was a great book too, there was something missing, it just wasn't Criminal. But now Criminal is back, and so is Tracy Lawless, the star of the, well the Lawless storyline, and once again, Bru and Phillips knock it out of the park.
The Sinners picks up approximately a year after Lawless, and finds Tracy in a very different situation than he was in his first story, he's no longer a drifter seeking revenge for his dead brother, now he's a Hitman for Mr. Hyde, the big Crime Boss in the city. But he's not a good Hitman, he's too moral, he does research on his targets, finds out if they deserve it or not, and sometimes doesn't even kill them. It's because of this that Hyde gives him a new task, to find out who is taking out supposed 'Made Men' in his organisation. Tracy now has to do police work. It's a fresh idea for a crime series, an Investigation, but the guy investigating isn't a Cop or a PI, he's a Criminal himself. Crucially, this idea is not a retread of Tracy's previous adventure, and it shows the flexibility and strength of the character, Brubaker may be re-using characters, but it's not to diminishing returns, he's doing something new, so much so that I would argue that this storyline could stand just as much alone as any of the others, despite being a sequel. I hope that when Brubaker revisits Leo 'Coward' Patterson, Joseph 'Bad Night' Kurtz, or any of the characters from 'The Dead and the Dying', he takes them to a new place.
Tracy is a fantastic character, he's so tortured in a very Noir way, he ran to the Army to try and escape his father's shadow, but now he finds himself in the exact same profession his dad was. It's a great twist. And Tracy's Noir spiral continues to get deeper and deeper throughout the issue. He's sleeping with Hyde's wife, and the last page brings back more secrets from his past in the Army. It's often thought that in Noir that the character's downfall is inevitable, and it seems to be true here, Tracy is in some deep shit here, and it's only going to bet worse for him, and better for us, the readers. Previous Criminal storylines have built up to classic finales, and it seems to me that The Sinners could be the mother of them all.
Just like in previous stories, The Sinners contains a couple of little continuity references for longterm readers, Tracy visits The Blue Fly Diner, a central setting in Bad Night and Father Grant from Lawless appears again, as a Corpse. It's these little nods that help make Criminal work for me, Brubaker and Phillips are building up a world here. I also noticed a couple of interesting celebrity Cameos in this issue, one of the Made Men whose deaths Tracy is investigating, is called Scotty Adsit. Scott Adsit is a comedian and actor, probably most famous for playing Pete Hornberger in NBC's 30 Rock, he's a comics fan, and the corpse even looks like him! Later in the issue, a corrupt cop named Joe Hill is murdered, who is of course based on and resembles Comics Writer and Novelist (and son of Stephen King) Joe Hill. I don't know if these guys have been put in here because Brubaker knows they are fans, or if they were the winners of that Comix4Sight auction, they are famous, so they're probably the only ones who can afford it! I just thought this was a cool thing, in a book full of cool shit.
Sean Phillips' art is as brilliant as usual, his style is just so perfect for this milieu, it's just so brilliant. I actually have a hard time writing critically about it, because it's just so perfect for the book. If you appreciate comics craft, this is a must.
As usual, Criminal comes with a raft of bonus features and essays, and this issue's selection is fantastic. As well as Ed's usual recommendations (Including the Red Riding Trilogy, a Noir from my Home City of Leeds in Yorkshire), we get an interview with Ed and Darwyn Cooke about Cooke's Parker adaptation, which to my shame, I still haven't read. Michael Stradford also writes an Essay about Sam Peckinpah's The Killer Elite, which really makes me want to see the movie, Criminal may be fantastic value for money, but it always makes me spend more on cool dvds or books! Damn you Brubaker!
The Sinners is a great first issue, and a fantastic return to the Criminal world, it's developing a character in an interesting way, and when you find out who the killers are, you know you're not in for the typical Noir. Tracy has his work cut out for him and the sharks are circling. I can't wait to see how it all turns out. To put it bluntly, if you're not reading this book, you're doing a disservice to not only yourself, but to the entire comics medium. Read it.