Criminal (2019-) #1
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Jacob Phillips & Sean Phillips
The ever-popular team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are back in the game with another addition to their award-winning crime fiction series Criminal, which began back in 2006. If like me, you’d never read this series, you may be familiar with their more recent successes of The Fade Out and the recently ended series of Kill or Be Killed, which is where I first read their work.
As Brubaker states in a note to readers at the end of this massive issue, he and Phillips couldn’t help but go back home to Center City and plan on doing something more experimental with this arc in the series.
Each story arc in the Criminal series focuses on a specific character or group of characters from Center City, a crime-ridden fictional setting spanning from the 70s on through the late 80s. Some of the major characters include Leo and Tommy Patterson and Tracey, Teeg, and Ricky Lawless.
The current arc takes place in ’88 and seems to mainly be focused on Teeg and his son Ricky, who has followed his father in a vicious cycle of crime. This familial cycle seems to be a common theme throughout the series. The issue opens with Ricky committing a poorly chosen job of theft from a criminal connected to Sebastian Hyde. He doesn’t kill anyone’s dog, but the consequences of his actions brought John Wick to mind.
If you’re worried about being lost because you haven’t read any of the previous arcs, don’t be. Brubaker runs through his list of usual characters throughout the story, revisiting and rehashing all of the important criminal connections. At the end he foreshadows all the key details that will happen in this arc, seemingly giving the plot away. Knowing him, though, there will be plenty of surprises.
Thankfully, he also gives us new readers a history lesson explaining the backstory of most of the major families as well as summarizing the series’ former trades. During this note to the readers, he describes the series as “…a tapestry of crime and damaged family history…” but also being “new-reader friendly”. I love that as a new reader because a huge ongoing series like this can seem daunting at first. Because he plugged the previous books, I’m now interested and not at all overwhelmed to start reading.
Criminal’s artist Sean Phillips has a distinctive style perfect for noir. Though it’s still dark, as expected, there are several different color schemes to make each scene cohesive and easier to follow. Another thing I’ve always really enjoyed about his work is how easy it is to understand the action happening in each panel. Similarly to crime being prevalent in the Patterson and Lawless families, Phillips is keeping it in the family with the addition of his son Jacob doing colors again.
After reading this issue and more about their previous work in the series, I’m down for the journey and plan on being caught up soon.
The Brubaker-Phillips team is back once again in Center City to visit Teeg Lawless. The year is 1988, and Teeg must quickly pay back a debt accrued by his son Ricky in an ever-too-familiar cycle of crime.