Criminal: Tenth Anniversary Special (April 2016)

Criminal: 10th Anniversary Special


On its own, Criminal: Tenth Anniversary Special is objectively excellent. Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips do the touching story of a boy and his jerk criminal dad. Set in 1978. And there’s a juxtaposing of an old Marvel-esque kung fu comic. It’s scary, it’s funny, it’s sad. It’s a great story.

But there’s so much texture to it all, as the special ties into the old Criminal books. It’s not a haphazard anniversary issue by a couple excellent creators; it’s an excellent anniversary issue, its creators taking it all very seriously. Brubaker and Phillips aren’t congratulating themselves with this Special, they’re awarding the reader with it. It’s this perfectly paced, perfectly conceived gem of a book. It’s got beautiful art from Phillips. He has this way of protecting the son whenever his father is around, implying it through the composition and the panel layouts. It’s such a smart comic.

It’s also fun. The kid meets a girl. She’s precocious. Brubaker hinges the whole comic on her–it’s a pre-teen romance of sorts–and he does a great job on her character. He presents the readers two views into the story, one through the kid’s, one through the girl’s. He does it with this wonderfully prompt pacing–Brubaker and Phillips and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser (who’s become an essential part of the team) take advantage of every page, every panel. It’s flawlessly executed.

The Criminal: Tenth Anniversary Special is a class act and a great comic.


Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.


Criminal: The Special Edition (February 2015)

Criminal: The Special Edition (One Shot)

Criminal’s back for a one-shot and, wow, it certainly does do a good job reminding of when Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are hitting the high notes on the comic.

The special brings back a character, but Brubaker spends more time establishing this Conan knockoff than anything he does with the issue’s protagonist. Having black and white interludes to the Conan knockoff’s magazine (it takes place in the seventies) wouldn’t work without Phillips’s art. He has this beautiful way of being detailed but not too detailed. You can buy the interludes as hurried late seventies fantasy comic art, but there’s still the Phillips quality to it.

The individual scenes in the comic–whether it’s the protagonist in a jailhouse fight or yelling at his son at one point–work better than the whole. Brubaker doesn’t have time for a big twist. He’s got time for scenic awesomeness though.


By This Sword I Live!; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

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.

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