The 24 issues of Sleeper
by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips were, in their time, the best monthly comic book being published. The series was about fear and paranoia, loyalty and betrayal, alliances and conflicts, but at its heart it was about Holden Carver, one of the most vivid and interesting characters to emerge in comics in my lifetime. Over the course of the series, Brubaker and Phillips earned my trust as two of the most gifted and skillful creators in comics, and their creative partnership, as far as I am concerned, is the modern day equivalent of, if not Lee and Kirby, at least Thomas and Windsor-Smith, who also created about 24 issues of wonderous comics not quite like anything else on the stands at the time. And like the original Conan the Barbarian
, I believe Sleeper
will still be read, collected, respected, and most importantly enjoyed
decades from now.
I'm going to try to not reference Sleeper
too much from here on out, because, as they said in that movie, "It's over
Johnny!" It's time to look ahead, and what makes it easiest to move on from my favourite monthly title of the past couple of decades is...Criminal
Holden Carver was a great character, but he was essentially alone amid a sea of people he couldn't trust, a sole protagonist in a very dangerous world. Criminal
posits a dangerous world as well, a similar world of tension and scheming and alliances and heists -- but in the first issue, Brubaker and Phillips establish an entire cast of criminals that, in the context of the book, can all more or less be looked on as lead characters. If Sleeper
was The Rockford Files
of crime comics -- and it wasn't, really, but stay with me here -- Criminal
is Hill Street Blues
, a brilliant ensemble piece with a fascinating cast of memorable characters that instantly and organically define themselves and welcome you into their sordid world.
Published art will be full-colour. Copyright (C) Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
The first issue, the beginning of a five-part arc called "Coward," does focus attention on a particular character -- in a harrowing and brilliantly effective opening scene, we meet Leo, and through narration he tells us about the set of rules that has kept him alive and free in a criminal world that leaves most people neither in the long term. Phillips depicts Leo as seedy but sympathetic, and the sense of his sharp, canny instincts comes through in both the words and the pictures. He's someone we want to know more about, after a lean and powerful four-page opening sequence that Scorcese or Tarantino would be proud to open a movie with. It's a heist-gone-wrong moment that sees Leo make a practical decision followed by a clever escape, and it's four pages of crime comics gold.
From there we meet the other key characters in the story, and the sense of already-established relationships in a real world we can explore as readers is intoxicating.
Phillips's art has improved even from the glory days of Sleeper
, and the way he stages a key conversation between Leo and two cops is a visual delight. It's just three guys talking, but Phillips's bold use of shadows and his confident ink line -- he can draw the hell
out of anything by now -- make even a simple three-way chat a confluence of suspicions and hidden motives. How lucky Brubaker is, to have so simpatico a collaborator with which to create this world and these people.
Phillips, too, is a lucky artist -- because Brubaker comes to Criminal
having thought up a complete cast of characters and the complex weaving in and out of each other's lives that will be the apparent key to the series. Whether it's an angry reunion with the wife of an old colleague, or the bartender at a seedy, underworld dive, there's a strong sense that these people all know each other, and each other's secrets, and who knows who will ultimately be loyal, and who will not?
As a reader, where comics often let me down is in creating a convincing world filled with people I want to learn more about. It's why superhero comics don't often meet my needs, and it's why I look to artcomix and autobiographical comics to satisfy my cravings for complete new worlds. A complete new world is what Brubaker and Phillips deliver in Criminal #1
. It's without question the best new comic to debut this year, and the most promising and rewarding first issue since Sleeper
. This is a new
world, though, and it's a dangerous place. I hope you're ready for it. I know I am.Criminal #1 is published by Marvel/Icon Comics and arrives in comic shops Wednesday, October 4th.