Criminal: The Sinners 5 (March 2010)


It’s completely predictable but I guess it’s nowhere near as bad as it could have been.

I read the Sinners and I think back to when Brubaker actually wrote real conversations. It’s like he uses Criminal‘s noir influences to excuse no one talking to each other, just at each other.

This issue features nothing new, no interesting developments in the criminal underworld of the nameless city, no insights into the Tracy Lawless character. It just trails off, cheating the reader out of the teenage killers getting killed. Their priest too. That scene with Tracy and the priest might be the lamest scene Brubaker’s ever written.

If I weren’t, basically, done with Brubaker, the Sinners might do it. I’m sure I’ll be back, I like Phillips too much (not to mention bitching about cheap narrative tricks). But it wasn’t too long ago I’d salivate over a Brubaker book.

I miss it.


Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Val Staples; publisher, Icon.

Criminal: The Sinners 4 (February 2010)


I’m not trying to be a jerk with the following question. Really, I’m not. Has Brubaker ever read Criminal? Because this arc, with Tracy Lawless being an honorable man among the riffraff, it really feels like Brubaker hasn’t read his comic before. It might explain why Criminal‘s quality is always so sporadic.

This issue has better narration than the last, which is good. Brubaker mostly sticks to Tracy this issue–hey, maybe they’ll make a Tracy Lawless action figure! Brubaker seems to have turned Criminal into a sellable property with the Sinners. A little touchup and a little paint and it’s all set for a movie or a tv show.

Too bad the comic book is swirling around in the toilet bowl.

Brubaker’s pace is off with this series too. He’s all of a sudden hurrying to the conclusion, which he wasn’t doing in the first issue.

Criminal‘s gasping for air.


Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Val Staples; publisher, Icon.

Criminal: The Sinners 3 (December 2009)


Well, I figured out one major problem–besides the contrived plotting–Brubaker doesn’t have a protagonist this series. He did the first issue, because he hadn’t introduced his teen killers for God (an ex-Army Catholic priest is getting kids to kill criminals), but now he’s got nothing.

The narration is awful this issue. It’s probably the worst narration Brubaker’s ever written in Criminal, maybe ever.

Brubaker is pushing the series from plot twist to plot twist and there’s nothing going on beyond them. He’s juxtaposing Tracy and one of the young killers, trying to get a neon arrow pointing between the two of them to show their concern for justice.

It’s cute how Brubaker acts like he’s being edgy. The Sinners is easily Criminal‘s safest arc.

Maybe saddest is how clearly Brubaker’s interest in the series has dissipated. Even when it used to be bad, you could tell he cared. Not anymore.


Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Val Staples; publisher, Icon.

Criminal: The Sinners 2 (November 2009)


Brubaker opens the issue with some terrible adjective use, so I started out ready to nitpick. Of course, he didn’t have to prove me right… but he went ahead and did so anyway. I really loathe these types of reviews, because I really do love Brubaker’s work. It’s just… fallen off since he’s gotten to Marvel. Swan dived, actually.

Oh, before I get the complaints–great art from Phillips. It’s always great art from Phillips, but this issue he really gets to do a lot.

All right, the laundry list.

It’s just too contrived. Brubaker expects the reader to make a significant time and money investment and he’s not providing anything in return.

Brubaker further establishes Tracy as a hero (he cares for hookers and the disenfranchised).

Finally, Brubaker makes the killers Tracy’s hunting kids–and the only way to redeem the series is for Tracy to kill them all.


Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Val Staples; publisher, Icon.

Criminal: The Sinners 1 (September 2009)


I guess Brubaker thought Criminal was out of control too, because for the Sinners, he returns to his most solid protagonist–Tracy Lawless (from the second arc of the first series).

For a while it works. We catch up with Tracy. In the year since the last story took place, he’s become a hitman with a conscious. He worries about his boss’s rebelling teenager daughter, cuddles his boss’s distraught trophy wife and seems to be an all-around nice guy.

He’s kind of turned into Burt Lancaster in a film noir. Not mean enough to be Kirk Douglas or Richard Widmark.

(At least he’s not Victor Mature).

The problems come from Brubaker’s lack of imagination. Sure, he’s got to be sleeping with his boss’s wife–it adds drama, but it’s pretty darn contrived, especially in Criminal.

Then there’s the ending–Tracy narrates an event he’s not present to experience. Huh?


Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Val Staples; publisher, Icon.

Criminal 7 (November 2008)


Maybe I just put it out of my mind, like I didn’t want to believe Brubaker was capable of writing such a stupid reveal. I mean, I knew he was capable of stupid endings–Sleeper provided that one beyond a shadow of a doubt, but….

Really, Ed? Fight Club? That’s the best you could come up with? Ripping off Fight Club? It might not have been a big hit, but everyone’s seen the damn thing. Not to mention it being in the novel too, so even if someone hasn’t seen the movie, they might have read the book.

Brubaker’s conclusion is so weak, it would have been a far better book if he’d killed the protagonist in the first issue and filled the subsequent three with nature art from Phillips.

It’s sort of fitting all the letter pages to this arc are Brubaker touting his awful direct-to-video movie.


Bad Night, Part Four; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Val Staples; publisher, Icon.

Criminal 6 (October 2008)


Okay, I’m mildly amused–back when I started reading Criminal again, I misremembered the first arc as this arc.

Brubaker’s really running into some pacing issues here. What’s old hat in a film noir–around an eighty minute narrative–does not work in comic book form. Brubaker also doesn’t have enough exposition to keep the reader’s reading speed in check, so this issue just flies past.

He’s got a protagonist who, on the surface, engenders a lot of sympathy but it’s all false sympathy. Brubaker makes the guy more and more tragic to get the reader interested, to divert attention away from there not being anything to the story.

I said before this arc could be done in an issue… at this point, I think it could be done in half an issue. Almost everything is padding here.

But Phillips is getting to draw daytime scenes here, which are pretty.


Bad Night, Part Three; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Val Staples; publisher, Icon.

Criminal 5 (September 2008)


Ah, the five minute read. Nothing like the five minute read.

For a five minute read, this comic isn’t bad. It’s got beautiful Sean Phillips art and it’s not a terrible all action issue. But it’s really light and really boring. Brubaker’s pacing here is for effect, everything is hurried to get the reader anxious.

It also made me remember I have read this arc; there’s really not much to it. It left me then, like it is in the process of doing now, with very little impression.

The arc either takes place entirely at night or inside the protagonist’s house. And his house is dark. The concept–a guy taken hostage and forced to aid in a criminal’s plot–could have been done in a single issue. It doesn’t need four, especially since it’s clear it’s not going anywhere special.

Maybe I’m wrong and it turns around, but I’m not hopeful.


Bad Night, Part Two; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Val Staples; publisher, Icon.

Criminal 4 (July 2008)


This arc of Criminal–I can’t remember if I’ve read it or not, I think I’ve read this issue because it seems familiar, but I’m not sure about the rest–is Brubaker’s first attempt at using a non-criminal as his protagonist. The guy used to be a criminal, but he’s since reformed. And he was never a tough guy. Of the five protagonists so far, all but one (the girl) was a tough guy. Now it’s two of six.

The issue’s got a nice pace to it, introducing the character, moving him through his routine. It’s the same guy who was in the second arc in the first series as a supporting character. I spent the entire issue trying to remember if that connection was correct–the always interconnected cast is getting distracting.

The pace changes in the last few pages, story veering into traditional noir.

Still, quite good.


Bad Night, Part One; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Val Staples; publisher, Icon.

Criminal 3 (April 2008)


I’d like to say Brubaker has some kind of magic where he’s able to escape all the traps of a guy writing female narration. But he doesn’t.

It’s still a really good issue and Brubaker doesn’t make the frequent mistakes of female narration–he’s got a really good plot and he sticks to the events and his protagonist’s observations of them. Where it’s wrong is the texture… he never gets inside the character’s head. It’s no more personal a narration than someone giving a speech. There’s not one personal thing in it, other than the events she finds herself experiencing.

This finishes the informal arc of the second series of Criminal and it’s a depressing ending. The protagonist was seen dead in the first issue and seen murdered in the second. Brubaker’s revelations of the story behind her actions is problematic. He’s definitely seen The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.


The Female of the Species; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Val Staples; publisher, Icon.

Criminal 2 (March 2008)


What Brubaker does here–a sort of prequel to the second arc of Criminal and a concurrent, companion story to the previous issue–is even better than the previous issue… which I didn’t think Brubaker could do.

Brubaker had a hard time working out the setting for Criminal in the first arc and wisely left it mostly alone in the second. But here, instead of dealing with the physical setting, he’s dealing with temporal one and he’s doing a lovely job. The protagonist of this issue is the father of the protagonist from the second arc. There are parallels between how the two men end up, but Brubaker doesn’t draw any attention to it. I don’t even think he refers to the protagonist’s sons by name, even though they were just the focus of their own arc.

This issue finally shows Criminal’s full potential as a narrative engine.

Utter perfection.


A Wolf Among Wolves; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Val Staples; publisher, Icon.

Criminal 1 (February 2008)


Such a good issue….

Brubaker’s able to get more content in because he’s got an increased page count but also because he’s concentrating on doing a standalone story. It turns out it’s not exactly standalone, but the issue has a beginning, middle and end. There’s no messing around with being deceptive in the narrative, to find something to reveal.

As much as I like Brubaker’s work, his staple of revealing a hidden truth about something in the past gets old. Just having him write a story–a continuous narrative stroke, maybe flashing back to reveal information to the reader but not the protagonist–is nice.

At the core of this issue is the relationship between the characters. The dialogue in their conversations is some of Brubaker’s best; he establishes the characters, their history, their relationship, all in one issue.

The great Phillips art is just a bonus.

An excellent comic.


Second Chance in Hell; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Val Staples; publisher, Icon.

Criminal 10 (October 2007)


Now I remember this story arc and why I didn’t have any bad memories of it–because it’s great.

What Brubaker does in this arc is take a character who’d be on the periphery of another story–a bigger story–and examine him. Tracy’s a tough guy who’d be in one scene of a more traditional noir story and instead Brubaker turns him into the lead. Except he’s not some first person narrator, he’s still distanced. It’s wonderful and completely unlike the first arc.

I’m not a fan of the forced fictional cities and locales, but as Brubaker brings this arc to a close, with some beautiful Phillips winter art–I wish it could go on forever. Phillips and Brubaker work great together, but something about this issue in particular really syncs more than usual.

It must be the winter. Brubaker’s narration suggests it’s always slushy and cold and Phillips’s art shows those conditions.


Lawless, Part Five; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist and letterer, Sean Phillips; colorist, Val Staples; publisher, Icon.

Criminal 9 (September 2007)


It’s in film noir’s nature to have a double-cross, to have a secret inopportunely revealed and have it affect the protagonist’s plans, whether he be a good guy or a bad guy.

So I’m not surprised Brubaker has both of those elements in this issue (maybe twice for each). But Criminal isn’t a film. It’s not a standalone narrative, regardless of story arcs. It’s a serialized narrative, which means having a double-cross and revelation once a story arc is tiring. Even when it’s done well, like this issue.

It’s different, for example, from a TV show where there’s the weekly “eureka” moment, because those moments are part of the show’s package. I don’t buy Criminal to get a neat or funny double-cross.

That problem aside, this issue might be even better than the last.

Brubaker’s exposition is so well-written, the plot probably doesn’t matter at all.


Lawless, Part Four; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Val Staples; publisher, Icon.