I recently read My Heroes have Always Been Junkies, and was impressed by it. It is a spin-off of this series, Criminal, by the same creative team: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. This is the first volume of that series, which I was eager to get started.

Leo is a criminal who plans a score from the first second down to the last wisp of exhaust from the getaway car. He’s the best at what he does, but he doesn’t do it anymore. Not after the Salt Bay job, where his best friend was killed and his father went to prison. Leo won’t end up in prison. He knows it’s exactly where he belongs, but what is life without freedom? When he is approached by an old colleague about a diamond heist, it’s five years after the Salt Bay job, and Leo is clean, but struggling. He’s caring for Ivan, a father figure with Alzheimer’s, and money is tight. Reluctantly, he agrees. When inevitably things go south, just as Leo planned, will he make it out alive and free?

I’m a little torn on this one. The story is compelling. We get a glimpse of what Leo is truly scared of at the end, which makes me want to read more. The whole read is an adrenaline rush. You wonder how could these characters possibly be more screwed up, how they could possibly get out of the trouble they’ve gotten into.

However, it was a bit too graphic for me. It seems I like psychological thrillers, like My Heroes have Always Been Junkies, more than this hard-boiled stuff. There is strong language, which I don’t mind, but the violence and drug use was too much. It is well-suited to the story, as we are reading about, well, criminals, but after a certain point it just turns me off to it. I’m not the right reader for this story, but I can see the appeal for others with stronger stomachs than I!

The art was well-rendered and appropriate for the story. It reminded me of The Wolf Among Us, the Telltale video game based on the Fables series, with the stark lighting and strong shadows on characters’ faces (leaving the reader to guess at their intentions; man I just LOVE THAT), but without the neon ’80s color palette. No, this story is situated in the real world, and the art reflects that with a murky palette instead.

I’m unsure if I’ll continue this series, but I can see why it’s considered an excellent example of a crime graphic novel series. The main character is mysterious, compelling, and while I haven’t read much crime, he seems like he’s a different sort of main character in a crime series. The writing is tight, tense, and fast-paced. The art ties it all together with dramatic lighting and a subdued palette. Kudos to Brubaker and Phillips!

– Kathleen

Brubaker, Ed, and Sean Phillips. Criminal (Vol. 1): Coward. 2015.

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