Hello! Welcome to the space on the internet where Carl Randers, Jack Stevens, and I get together and discuss a comic that we recently read. I like to call it ‘Comic Relief‘! It’s been a while since we had one of these but since the last edition was a spooky double feature of 30 Days of Night, Vol 1 and 30 Days of Night: Return to Barrow, both written by Steve Niles with art by Ben Templesmith, I figured we’d be alright through the end of the year. Now that it’s 2022, it’s time to dive back into the comics and we will be discussing Criminal Volume 1: Coward, written by Ed Brubaker with art by Sean Phillips.
The official listing for Criminal Volume 1: Coward reads “from Harvey Award-Winning Best Writer Ed Brubaker, and Scream Award-Winning Best Artist Sean Phillips comes the first collection of Criminal, one of the best-reviewed comics of 2006. Coward is the story of Leo, a professional pickpocket who is also a legendary heist-planner and thief. But there’s a catch with Leo, he won’t work any job that he doesn’t call all the shots on, he won’t allow guns, and the minute things turn south, he’s looking for any exit that won’t land him in prison. But when he’s lured into a risky heist, all his rules go out the window, and he ends up on the run from the cops and the bad men who double-crossed him. Now Leo must come face-to-face with the violence he’s kept bottled up inside for 20 years, and nothing will ever be the same for him again. Collects Criminal #1-5.”
That’s enough table setting, so let’s just dive right into Criminal Volume 1: Coward…
Randers: What’re your feelings about crime noir in general before we get into Criminal?
Nick: It’s not my favorite, but I definitely enjoy it.
Jack: I don’t, like, seek it out, but I like it when I see it.
Randers: I haven’t seen Chinatown. I’m not super into Blade Runner. But I guess I’m the same. I think overall from what I understand of the genre it can be a bit sexist and tropey but maybe that’s “all comics.” I liked Criminal. Wouldn’t call it amazing. Probably wouldn’t enjoy this installment as a movie, but maybe others.
Nick: I think this works better as an anthology series. So like adapted as a show, as opposed to a movie.
Randers: Agreed. I found the presentation of the drug dealer a little… cringey. Every time I read “street lingo” written by a white writer it makes me a little uncomfortable. I don’t know that it adds anything more than just writing them “normal.”
Nick: I see what you mean. It feels a little too try-hard when that comes up, not to mention the potential racial connotations that it might approach.
Jack: I think the “oceans” style heist early part didn’t translate well to the comic book medium. It’s a lot of slow setup and dialogue. The whole thing felt a little slow to me personally, but the latter half definitely kept me more engaged/interested. I hated the ending. A bunch of people died. Nobody gained anything. Perhaps you sell this as character building/an origin story, but it really felt like no progress/evolution was made with any of the characters. I liked it overall, but again it’s hard to rally behind it when it felt meaningless overall. I think I’d list it in the top half of what we’ve read so far, but not by much. This also feels like why Randy says he doesn’t like It’s Always Sunny. There’s nobody to root for. There’s no real babyface in this. Everybody kinda sucks and is crooked. They clearly try to show that the protagonist has a heart for certain people, but… he’s also a career criminal/murderer.
Randers: I think in this case, knowing it’s noir eases that. You kinda “know” it’s not going to end well for anyone. Crime doesn’t pay. I think the investment comes from the tension of the story to see how it all goes bad.
Nick: The heist was my favorite part. I was excited to see where things went. And I enjoyed them hiding out too. I think the least interesting thing for me was the recruitment. Yeah, it’s like a horror movie. Everyone is probably gonna die but HOW it happens is the interesting part.
Jack: I agree Nicky, that’s a better way of putting it. The heist itself was great, but allllll of the lead-up to it felt boring, even if necessary. You’re both right, it fits the genre, it’s just not something that usually does it for me narratively. I like a good payoff/earned conclusion. And it’s possible that in the story to come, this sort of sets up the character and why he is the way he is, etc. but as a stand-alone story, I just would have appreciated more stakes/resolution I guess.
Randers: Gotya. Fair enough. Yeah. Sounds like your issues are gonna carry across every entry in this genre.
That’s all folks!
As a reminder, we try to pick comics that are easily accessible (both to get ahold of and to understand) so anything we read is available through ComiXology (which is owned by Amazon, just FYI), both Marvel and DC have their own digital comic sources, or you can support your local comic shop by picking up a hardcopy (I highly recommend Destiny City Comics in Tacoma, WA, who ship anywhere) so feel free to follow along and chime in with your thoughts, feelings, concerns, or considerations in the comments!
Next time on Comic Relief, in a Spook-tacular double feature, we will be reading: Maximum Carnage written by the team of Tom DeFalco, Terry Kavanagh, and J.M. DeMatteis, with art by David Michelinie, Mark Bagley, Sal Buscema, Ron Lim, Tom Lyle, and Alex Saviuk.
Continue the conversation on social media:
Carl Randers: @FantasticDork
Jack Stevens: @Jackstandsup