14th Jun2019

‘Criminal #5’ Review

by Dean Fuller

Written by Ed Bribaker | Art by Sean Philips | Published by Image Comics


I’ve followed Criminal on and off for a few years now, usually picking up the trades rather than waiting for the individual issues. I tend to find Brubaker is so good at leaving tantalising teases at the end of individual issues that he makes it unbearable having to wait, so I prefer to wait and read it all in one go. That being said, I suppose you lose a little of that old excitement that way, that feeling as a kid when you finished an issue of your favourite comic and had to wait an agonising 30 days to find out what happened next. So here I am, ready to pick up a single issue of Criminal, to see if that magic is still there. Perfect timing too, as this issue not only kicks off a new arc, ‘Cruel Summer’, but is set in my happy time, the late 1980’s.

Ed Brubaker has never hidden the fact his preferred genre is that of street level happenings, the down and outs, the femme fatales, the crime noir of old. Even his mainstream comics work has incorporated this often of course, his Gotham-centric work over at DC being a case in point. So opening with a detective eyeing up a mystery women in a late night bar, probably about to do something he will later regret, is firmly saying you are most definitely in noir territory here. The detective is Dan Farraday, and he’s actually working a case. In fact, she’s the case, as she soon finds out. Farraday has been hired by a wealthy businessman, Kirk Wyndham, to find his mistress, who has upped and left. Dan’s no fool, he knows for a mistress to fly the coop there’s usually a very good reasons, and he hates people like Wyndham. But hey, late on mortgage payments and a cash in hand client seals the deal.

Dan’s your archetypal crime fiction ‘hero’. A soldier in ‘Nam, a cop for a while, hates authority and being told what to do, but essentially a good guy. Just a little rough around the edges. He operated at the lower end of the private investigation field, chasing bail jumpers, people on the run etc, and was under no illusions about his lot in life. Finding people gives him purpose, helps him stop thinking about his lot in life. Over several pages we see just what a good detective Farraday is, tracking down this mystery women through a series of thefts from gullible men, stays at various hotels, and semi-observant staff. Luckily a good looking woman tends to stick in the memory. A friend at the crime lab also gives him a name, Marina Kelly, and he finally finds her, right at the place we walked in on.

Marina knows how to play men, so is Dan just another man falling under her spell? He needs that money, and yet sits down and talks with Marina rather than telling his client. He opens up to her, she to him, and Dan’s happy he made the right decision. Only he didn’t. She leads him into a trap, that ends up with him in hospital with a fractured skull. Oh, and fired by his client too. He has one thing to cling to, the name of the thug who attacked him. Teegar Lawless. Fans of this series know exactly who he is, and who he is, is not good news. The Summer of 1988 is also a time just before certain events occur for Teeg, that I won’t give away here. Farraday is taking a huge risk.

Interestingly enough, in Brubaker’s text piece at the end, he tells us we won’t see Dan for a time, as the focus shifts to Teeg and Ricky. This is a common feature of Brubaker’s work, the shift in perspective. A story has many different viewpoints, so why just tell it from one place? To get the whole picture, to truly understand events and actions, you need to get in the head of all your characters. We all have a story to tell. As expected, an excellent issue from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Pitch perfect dialogue and story, damaged characters, events that spiral out of control and consequences to be had. Yep, Brubaker is in his element. Sean Phillips art is always the perfect match for Brubaker’s writing, both stylistically and the way the panels and layouts work. Despite some pages having up to nine panels, the art never feels crowded or as though we are being short changed on detail. Gorgeous to follow, with some lovely full page panels too.

I fully expected to enjoy this, and it not only lived up to my expectation but surpassed it. This is no less than a HBO crime drama on the page. But better.

***** 5/5

Criminal #5 is out now from Image Comics.


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