Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

CRIMINAL: THE DEAD AND THE DYING by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

I’m a big Ed Brubaker fan. His comics have always carried a crime and noir feeling about them that strike a resonance within me. I know we must have read the same books growing up. Probably still like the same authors, if we compared notes.

I’ve read his work on Captain America and Daredevil, and his work on Gotham Central (which is finally getting the hardcover treatment those books are due). I’ve thrilled to Sleeper and the undercover cop motif he worked out in that run. Still don’t know why that hasn’t become a movie, but maybe it’s in the works.

But I’m really wowed by his Criminal books. The comic series comes out irregularly, when Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips have time to put the issues out. Timeliness is a big thing in comics these days, so they make sure they’re ready to rock and roll before they start releasing them.

I’ve reviewed the previous two Criminal graphic novels and found both of them to be great reads. Each graphic novel before has stood on its own, so readers new to the series don’t have to read them in any particular order. Brubaker’s world of criminals and hustlers gets bigger with each new volume, though, so it’s interesting to watch it grow.

However, the earlier books have to be read in order. In this latest graphic novel, Criminal: The Dead and the Dying, you can read any of the three issues in any order. In fact, I’d recommend going back after you’ve read it the first time and mixing up the reading order just to see what new information you get out of the story.

Each of the issues is set in the 1970s and concerns itself with a different character, but all of them have lives that overlap. The book immediately reminded me of Pulp Fiction in the way that it ended almost the way it began.

The first issue, “Second Chance In Hell”, revolves around Jake a young black boxer with ties to a criminal past. All his life he’s been best friends with Sebastian Hyde, the heir to a criminal empire. Jake’s father worked for Sebastian’s father and the two boys, despite being racially separate, grew up together.

While Jake and Sebastian’s relationship is undergoing a strain, Jake’s old flame Danica walks back into the picture. Jake is supposed to be training for the fight of his career, supposed to be focused, but he can’t help getting pulled back into the fire by Danica. Regular readers of Criminal have met Jake before. He’s the bartender at Undertown, a place where all the bad guys congregate and plan heists and murders. In this issue, we get to see his back story as well as how he got his limp.

“A Wolf Among Wolves” reveals the history of Teeg Lawless, the father of the two boys in Criminal Volume 2. Readers are treated to a returning, disillusioned war vet who went into Vietnam with all kinds of problems to begin with. He came back with even more, including a gambling problem that puts him on the wrong side of a deadly bookie.

Brubaker deftly weaves this story in with the first tale, mixing characters and revealing more of what happened during the robbery that changed things forever between Jake and Sebastian. It also reveals how much Danica had to do with things.

I admit, I was seriously stoked over this issue when I saw how neatly Brubaker had plotted everything. I had questions left over from the previous issue, and some of them were answered, but not all.

“Female Of The Species” is Danica’s story. Everything we thought we knew about her gets flipped on its head and turned inside out in this issue. We find out why she made the decision that broke Jake’s heart and how she got seriously messed up herself after all of that. When I saw her on the page in the first couple of issues, I didn’t like her. But after reading her story, I saw her in a new light. Just as Brubaker planned.

Throughout all these issues, Brubaker’s ear for street dialogue and his eye for pacing and the neon-drenched shadows that cling to the alleys commands attention. Sean Phillips’s artwork brings the rough world of these career criminals into sharp focus.

I hope the pair continues turning out these stories. They’ve currently got a new arc underway and I can’t wait to see what happens. I just have to be patient as they take their time. That’s hard, though, because nobody does bad as good as they do.


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