Editor's Note: Criminal Vol. 2 #2 arrives in stores tomorrow, April 9.
"A Wolf Among Wolves"
As much as I loved the first volume of Criminal, I think I'm starting to love the second volume of Criminal just a little more. The world that Brubaker is building here is densely structured, and we're beginning to see how things play out in a generational way. This issue, we get a done-in-one story about Teeg Lawless (who might be familiar, sort of, to those who read the second arc of the first series), a Viet Nam vet returned to a home full of strangers and the urge to drink and dope himself into oblivion.
I just praised Garth Ennis for avoiding the "traumatized vet" stereotype in the latest issue of Punisher, and now I'm going to praise Brubaker for using that stereotype as a jumping off point. And here's why. The Viet Nam background, rather than being brought center stage and taking over the story, is used in a way here that emphasizes the man rather than the war. Teeg can't deal with the memories, so he drinks. And not just a little.
The use of black panels to represent his blackouts is a very nice touch, and we get very disorienting, and troubling, flashes of violence, drug abuse, and sex. Teeg is a man with a problem beyond the war and his addictions. Remember, this is noir, boys and girls. He owes someone a lot of money and really bad things are going to happen if he doesn't come up with it.
This is where the generational aspect of the story really enhances the reading experience. We know what happens to Teeg's kids. We read all about them in the "Lawless" arc in Season One. So, knowing that they aren't murdered and grow up to become very bad men in their own right, there's a very interesting dramatic tension developed. We assume Teeg's going to get the money. The question is how and from where? And the answer to that question is seriously bad news.
Philips' artwork is rough-edged and violent. It's a lot more polished than his Marvel Zombies work (although there is a nice, one-panel zombie moment that made me chuckle and shudder at the same time) and does an impressive job of allowing the story to flow across the page. There's never any question as to what is going on, who's doing what, and what is going through the minds of the characters. The streets are dirty, the clubs are dark, and the alleys are dangerous. This feels like it was filmed in the 70s and we're just now getting ahold of the footage.
Anyone who tells you that there's nothing out there to read, or that comics are a dead or dying medium, really doesn't know what the fuck they're talking about. There are more good books being published now than I can ever remember ever being published at one time. The late eighties was probably the last time that there was this much quality and variety in American comics, and people need to support books like this one to help keep that standard high. And if that tool reads Criminal and still says it's all crap, then you beat the shit out of him. Then something really bad will happen to you too, but at least you put that punk in his place. That's your Crime Comics 101 lesson for the day.
This issue's backmatter is an essay by Scalped's Jason Aaron, entitled "My Favorite TV Cops and Movie Tough Guys, Flaws and All." It's not bad, but is essentially just what the title says: a list of his favorite flawed characters. There are some good ones in here, and I appreciate his ranking of William Friedkin's To Live and Die in LA above The French Connection. That takes balls, my friend. But it makes me want to watch them both back to back (it's been years since I've seen either film). It was also nice to be reminded of the film State of Grace (another one I've almost forgotten). Gary Oldman blew me away in that film, and Sean Penn gave a tough, multi-faceted performance that I probably need to see again to really appreciate.
So, while the backmatter isn't the most insightful, it's at least got a lot of good rental recommendations. I can't wait to see what else Aaron's going to be writing for Marvel in the next few months.
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