Pick of the Week

Pick of the Week – 06.01.2011 – Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #1

What did the
iFanboy
community think?

465
Pulls
Avg Rating: 4.7
iFanboy Community Pick of the Week Percentage: 54.2%
 
Users who pulled this comic:
Story by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

Size: pages
Price: 3.50

Now, that’s the stuff.

For a few years Criminal was one of my favorite comic books. Whenever someone asked us what our favorite series were, Criminal was always one of the first names out of my mouth. But then I didn’t really love Bad Night and while I enjoyed The Sinners, it didn’t thrill me as much as Coward, Lawless, and The Dead and Dying did. And then we had to wait a year for Criminal: The Last of the Innocent.

I was concerned that the thrill was gone.

I needn’t have worried.

Criminal can be a very tricky book. As the title indicates, there are very few good people in these stories, and those that are good are usually on their way to meeting a bad end. The trick with Criminal is to make the bad guys engaging enough, and the story engaging enough, that you don’t just tolerate being down in the society’s muck, but you enjoy it. By washing every character in the book in varying tones of gray, writer Ed Brubaker helps his case tremendously by making these bad people identifiable. It’s like watching The Wire—even though you knew that those drug dealers were bad people, you couldn’t help not only identifying with them, but also rooting for them every now and then.

In Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #1 just about everybody has a grimy gray sheen on them and that’s the way we like it. (One character doesn’t and either her bad side hasn’t been revealed yet or I fear for her safety.) It’s 1982 and we are introduced to Riley Richards, a minor crook with a major gambling problem and the husband of a daughter of a super wealthy businessman who is currently cheating on him with an old acquaintance. Riley’s father is dying of cancer so he has been called back to his seemingly idyllic hometown of Brookview that, on its surface, seems to be frozen in time in the 1950s/60s.

But this is Criminal, so you just know things in Brookview are not as they seem on the surface.

All of the classic elements of a great noir story are here. The down and out and in over his head lead character. The crumbling marriage to the rich ice queen. The infidelity. The cute as a button girl next door. The screw up best friend. The rich-and-powerful father in law with his own dangerous agenda. The secret gambling debts. The small town setting. Everybody’s got secrets and just about everybody’s lying and you just know that this is going to end with a dead body or three.

There is a device used in this book that I enjoyed tremendously. In the lead-up to this series coming out, Ed Brubaker said that, “The history of crime comics is inextricably linked to Dr. Wertham's book [The Seduction of The Innocent], so I decided to take the innocent days of youth and put them through all of Wertham's worst fears.” He does that in the title, Criminal: The Last of the Innocent, and not just subtly in the story itself, but also directly with the decision to employ flashbacks to Riley’s childhood drawn in the simple style of children’s comics that focus on sex, drugs, and general misery. It’s wonderfully subversive and a whole lot of fun.

It was so very nice to be thrilled by Criminal again. This issue was like a warm blanket that enveloped me and pulled me into its world. That immersive experience is helped along in no small part by artist Sean Phillips. He does an excellent job not only with the people, but with their environment. Not every panel has a background, but not every panel needs one. In most of his panels he establishes the surroundings and gives a really strong sense of place but then in certain panels the super detailed backgrounds disappear and are replaced by color as if to cue us to focus on the characters themselves because in a book like Criminal the things people say to each other are often literally a matter of life and death.

Criminal isn’t overly complicated and I don’t mean that as a knock against the book because it’s one of its greatest strengths. We meet a bunch of characters and bear witness as they get thrown together and then we watch the sparks (and bullets) fly and the bodies drop. There’s a certain beauty in that simplicity. I read a lot of books this week with casts of hundreds of characters with giant scope and electric chairs and aliens and big hammers but it was Criminal that was the most accessible and human, despite the fact that it featured, for the most part, people you wouldn’t want to interact with in real life.

I hope that the level of quality of this first issue is maintained throughout the entire mini-series because I would like nothing more than to say that, once again, Criminal is one of the best comic books being published.

There’s no time like the present to check out Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #1. You don’t have to know anything going in; there is no continuity to worry about. It’s just an expertly crafted crime comic book from some of the best creators in the business.

Conor Kilpatrick
Take that, Wertham!
conor@ifanboy.com

Comments

  1. Oh, well. Great pick.

    Uncanny X-Force is my POTW.

  2. My shop ran out of this. wish I could of read it.

  3. For some reason I was certain that this was Josh’s pick. I even read the entire review in his voice (scary, I know). Only to get to the end and read, “Conor Kilpatrick”. Aaack! My world has been turned upside down!

    Nice review, Conor. This issue was great.

  4. I heard good things about this one, wish I was reading in issues…

  5. My shop didn’t get new comics today! Lame.

  6. Not to change the subject, but is anyone other than me having a problem picking a PotW on the site? Nothing happens when I press the button.

    Regardless Criminal was great, but all the surprise moments and the great art in S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 made it my pick.

  7. @nick0606  We’re having issues with the site at the moment that are hindering making pulls and selecting a Pick of the Week. We’re working on it.

  8. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    The cover is a little matchy matchy with our layout. 

    (I am very excited to read this issue and saving it for the end of my stack).  

  9. As ever I’m looking forward to checking this out in trade.

    Nice review, though, Conor.

  10. @PaulMontgomery Seconded.

  11. It’s funny how I was listening to B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone” while I was reading this & have gotten the exact same feeling as Conor did. In fact that sound was complementing the overall tone and plot of the issue perfectly. I was so thrilled after I read this I got chills that I haven’t felt since reading Criminal Vol.2 Issue 3, & then I felt scared that this could lead to either a disappointing story arc, i.e. Bad Night like Conor said (I thought that Sinners was a huge improvenment), or a huge comeback that might just redefine crime comics once again as the first 13 issues (chronologically) of Criminal have done. All I can say is that Brubaker & Phillips have locked me in, but I am wary of the potential to this ride that is The Last of The Innocent.

  12. Best book of the week by far! 

    Matthew

  13. No S.H.I.E.L.D.?? I just don’t understand.

  14. @ttocsnacnud  Give Criminal a shot and you might!

  15. @conor  Okay cool thanks

  16. @nick0606  It should be working now.

  17. I got to my LCS, saw a gap on the table where this should have been, and alas, I had JUST missed it. Another guy that works there was holding the last copy. *grumble grumble*

  18. @Firevine  If that store is any good then the employee should give up his copy to a custumer. I’ve seen that happen all the time at quality comic shops.

  19. S.H.I.E.L.D. blew my mind. POTW

  20. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    This was effing great. Spot on review, Big C! 

  21. can not wait to read this

  22. @conor  It’s no biggie, I work there part time myself.  I’m sure he would have given it up to a customer though.

  23. You know, Brubaker is probably my favorite working writer in comics today but I felt like this last year he was kind of phoning it in a little. Criminal the Sinners and Incognito Bad Influences were both good I guess, but I couldnt tell you what happened because there was just nothing there that was memorable whereas as some of his older work really stuck with you for a long time because it really hit you like a hammer to the groin. 

    And I actually thought Bad Night was possibly the best story of Criminal so far, I guess everyones got a different favorite and least favorite. 

  24. I hate moving home for the summer solely because of this comic book.  I am likely going to be driving for roughly 4 hours tomorrow to find this.  Moses Lake/Spokane here I come.

  25. I really love the subversion of the whole Archie thing. This was crazy clever.

  26. Just Read This And Holy Crap it surprised me at how good it was, cant wait for more

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