Welcome, True Believers, to the first in a short series on the comics that are rocking my world in 2008. It occured to me that it might be a good idea to talk up some of the rough diamonds on the racks and maybe, if I'm lucky, push some readers in their direction. Couldn't hurt, right?
First up is Criminal written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Sean Phillips - for the reader that likes their broads to be stacked, their femmes to be fatale, their men square-jawed, their cigarettes unfiltered, their guns smoking, their money laundered and their morality murky.
The interweaving lives and crimes of a cast of conmen, crooks and cops down the years, there is an undercurrent of melancholy and the ever-present prospect of random violence and tragedy in every story. This isn't a book about good guys and bad guys - it's a book about damaged people fighting to get through their lives, played against a nicotine-stained, neon-lit backdrop of revenge, double-crosses, sex, murder and betrayal. I'm tempted to say more, but one of the joys of Criminal is unravelling the twists and turns of every story. A single chapter has more detail creeping out at the panel-borders than most entire books do.
Brubaker clearly has an abiding love of hard-boiled crime fiction, classic film noir and the nihilistic crime movies of the 70s, and yet despite the obvious influences of the material, he still manages to blend it all up and then pare it back down into something fresh and exhilarating, whilst luxuriating in genre conventions. There isn't a single panel or hard-bitten slug of dialogue that feels like fanboy homage or a pale imitation of past works. With the fantastic linework of Sean Phillips making the death and decay hit home even harder, this is the real shit. As devastating as a left-hook from a washed-up prize fighter, as heartbreaking as the smile from a hooker on a street corner at sunrise and as tough as the barrel of a .44 poking into the small of your back, Criminal is one of the best books on the shelves. Read 'em and weep.
So far, there are two Criminal collections available: Coward and Lawless, available from all fine purveyors of pictorial storytelling.
Please remember this, though - books like Criminal can live or die by monthly sales, and the Criminal mob reward the early-adopting monthly-readers by adding supplementary material that is not available in the trade collections. The text pieces by guest writers at the back of every issue are definitely worth a read.
Want a free taste? Click here to download a PDF teaser. The first hit comes for free and then you're hooked.
Ed Brubaker's website can be found here, and the page about Criminal is here.
Sean Phillips wields his mighty pencil here.
And here is the Criminal blog.
If you're looking at the subject line for this post and thinking "What the hell does Seducton of the Innocent mean?" then click here and learn something. I shower my wisdom upon you like a benevolent drunk pissing on the doorstep of your mind.
If you like your pulp fiction without the purty pictures, the novels published by Hard Case Crime come with my highest possible recommendation.
Now get out of here, kid, ya bother me.