TLOTI stands for The Last Of The Innocent, but the most important thing here is that the RG is doing Criminal! But how come some of us are so disappointed?
The Review Group is a collection of posters who get together and review a new comic each week that we each take turns selecting. Our threads can be found in The Outhouse's Newstand forum and is open for anyone and everyone to participate in.
This week we've got Criminal: The Last Of The Innocent #4, which is the final issue of the latest Criminal epic from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Most of us have gone on record as loving Criminal, but I think this week's reviews may come as a bit of a surprise.
Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #4 actually turns the usual crime story convention on its head by giving Riley something of a happy ending. His big murder plot goes off without a hitch, he gets a ton of money, he gets the girl of his dreams, he's happy. So what could go wrong?
This issue is kind of a strange duck in that it works as a great ending to what was a superlative story (I'd say the best Criminal story yet), but as an issue unto itself, there isn't a whole lot to get into. Thought the story sees itself through to its conclusion, the plot is already pretty much done with. Riley has a few bits of business to take care of, but even with the suspicious private eye on his tail, he isn't in any real danger. Any problems he does have he's able to easily dispatch. So...the end?
Overall, a fine issue, but it doesn't work as well without the previous three.
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.
This current arc of Criminal started out with a bang but fizzled out with a whimper. This last issue felt like a rushed epilogue to the rest of the series. For me, it felt like watching a movie and at trhe end everything is wrapped up with a few paragraphs of text before the credits.I expected more to happen with the private investigator. I thought he would be a much bigger thorn in Riley's side. Instead we get a quick exchange between the two and that's it. I did like the inclusion of Teeg Lawless here to tie in with the other Criminal arcs. The other thing that threw me here was the happy ending Riley receives. He's rich, gets away with murder and has the woman he always wanted. Not quite the ending I expected given how previous arcs have ended. After all, Riley was responsible for three murders here including his wife and best friend. Having said all that, it's still Criminal and it's better than a lot of books out there.
The art here was great as always. Philips is a perfect fit for Criminal. I loved how the flashbacks were drawn in a totally different style that, to me, reflected the innocence of youth.
Story - 5
Art - 9
Overall – 7
I wasn't expecting to see Riley get away with his crime. Not that it's inherently a bad thing to have that sort of ending in crime fiction. Having said that, I personally find that the main character has to be one of two types for that ending to work. The first type is a criminal so likeable that the reader doesn't mind seeing him get away with his crime. The second is a criminal so smart that the reader can't help but sit back, look at his plans and say, "you know, you put things together so well that you probably deserve to get away with it." Riley clearly isn't in the first group. When it comes to the question, "does he fall into the second group?" the problematic answer for me is yes and no.
With that answer lies the reason why The Last of the Innocent fell apart with issue #4. On the surface, Riley's planning and actions should put him in that second group. The thing is the way Brubaker wrote him he doesn't come across as somebody who could come up with those plans, but instead he comes across as a guy more lucky than intelligent. The writing was strong enough over the course of the first three issues that this was largely hidden. Unfortunately, this disconnect between Riley and his actions became all too obvious this issue. The result is a disappointing and unsettling ending that leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth.
Sadly, I have to give this a 4 out of 10.
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'
So I just finished this issue and I have no fucking clue what's really going on, but it was still a decent comic. I don't know if it's a disappointing end to a great run like some have suggested but it's still alright. I read some criminal a few years ago and it was still good but it was still no sleeper which will always be what I measure bru and philips to.
Ouch, sorry Ed and Sean! I guess somebody had to not like Criminal some time, at least it's a bunch of idiots like us instead of some respectable critics! Overall Criminal: The Last Of The Innocent #4 got a score of 6.5 out of 10, which isn't bad really, but for Criminal? It's a bit of a drop-off. Click this link to read the full thread, with all the reviews, and one member of the Group being angry for no real reason.
Join us next week for another Scott Snyder extravaganza in Batman #1. We loved his last issue of Detective Comics, but that doesn't mean we'll like his Batman, I mean, I though we loved Criminal!
Written or Contributed by: Niam Suggitt