I’ve read quite a few favorable comments about CRIMINAL, the series of noir-oriented graphic novels written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Sean Phillips. While I enjoyed Brubaker’s work on various Batman titles in the past and am really liking his current efforts on several comics published by Marvel, I’d never sampled the CRIMINAL series until now.
The first volume, COWARD, is narrated by a guy named Leo, a former pickpocket who has graduated to planning and helping carry out elaborate robberies. He has a strict set of rules, though, and won’t get involved in any job where he has to run too much of a risk. When he’s approached by a fellow thief and a crooked cop and asked to plan the robbery of a police evidence van carrying five million dollars worth of stolen diamonds, Leo first says no. He doesn’t want to get involved in something being set up by a crooked cop. Too chancy.
But he has his father’s former partner to take care of, and the man is not only hooked on heroin but also has Alzheimer’s, so Leo needs money. The fact that the widow of a former partner of his is also going to be part of the crew influences Leo as well. He feels a little guilty that the woman’s husband got killed during a job he planned. So, reluctantly, Leo says yes.
You already know where this is going. Leo has made a bad mistake.
Naturally, things don’t work out the way he expects them to. People die. Lies and double-crosses abound. More people die. And Leo is left scrambling to try to protect himself and the people he cares about while trying to make things right. You’ve seen this before, going all the way back to the Gold Medal glory days.
But the heist plot, when done well, is still remarkably effective, and Brubaker and Phillips do a great job in COWARD. Although Leo is a far cry from being the hardnosed guy that Parker is, reading this book reminded me quite a bit of Westlake’s Richard Stark novels. Brubaker writes fine dialogue, the plot twists back and forth nicely, and the whole thing has that inexorable spiraling of fate that makes noir fiction what it is. This is excellent work, and I plan to read more of the collected editions of CRIMINAL in the near future. Highly recommended.