Tuesday, February 5, 2008

It's CRIMINAL not to give this a read

For years, comic books have been regarded as for kids, or overgrown kids. Most people would think muscle-bound do-gooders running around in their underwear or funny talking animals. But things have changed quite a bit.

No longer just for kids, there are comics for almost any taste or preference. Interested in westerns, try 'Jonah Hex' or 'The Lone Ranger'. Interested in sci-fi, try 'Y: The Last Man', about a young twentysomething who discovers he's the last man alive in a world run by women. Now, if your taste runs towards film noir, crime and femme fatales, look no further than Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's 'Criminal'.

Published under Marvel Comics Icon line, 'Criminal' is an irregularly produced comic book that focuses on the world of crime from an almost blue collar level. Each story arc runs 4-6 issues, complete with a letters page and very well written crime articles written by a variety of well regarded afficianados. Topics have been a look at Robert Altman's 'The Long Goodbye', a feature on 'Blaxploitation' movies and the ultimate film noir 'Out of the Past' among others.

Ed Brubaker is one of the most popular writers in comics these days. Last year, 'Criminal' won the Eisner Award (comics version of the Oscar) for Best New Series. He also writes 'X-Men', 'The Immortal Iron Fist', the noir influenced 'Daredevil' and 'Captain America', where his controversial 'Death of Captain America' was the biggest selling book of the year. Even more impressively, until this month, there's been no Captain America featured in his own magazine and it's still an amazing read.

Sean Phillips, based in the UK is Brubaker's artist of choice, having enjoyed success with the series 'Sleeper' a few years ago. Phillips has a unique style that's scratchy and gritty, but is also a textbook on storytelling. Equally comfortable with oil paint as ink, Phillips is clearly an equal in this partnership.

All of the characters in 'Criminal' exist in the same universe and occasionally cross each other's path, usually in the speakeasy bar, The Undertow, itself a character.

The first story arc, 'Coward' is a about a small time criminal who always knows how to get away before the law shows up. In this tale, he's part of a heist that goes awry and his long winning streak of evading John Law may be about to end.

The second arc, 'Lawless', centers around Tracey Lawless, a military man who breaks out of jail to find out who murdered his less than honorable brother. Along the way he meets a woman, joins a gang and the fireworks begin.

Either of these arcs would make a great film. Brubaker is known for inventive stories, richly flawed characters, realistic dialogue and a real feel for the street. Coming this month are three standalone issues that focus on a different lead character. All of the stories have some connection to each other, but it's not necessary to read all three in order to understand what's going on. The art above is from the second story in the trilogy.

If you're up for a novel length crime read, give one of the trades a try. If you're more inclined to test the waters before you jump all the way in, try the new issue in February. Turn on a soft light and use Charlie Haden's 'Now Is the Hour' as a soundtrack while you read. Doesn't get much better than that..

1 comment:

Michael A. Gonzales said...

...check out the forthcoming "the darker mask" edited by gary phillips and chris chambers (tor books).