Wednesday, May 20, 2009

THE SINNERS: The Return of Criminal.

By my count, this is the 100th blog entry published here at A Criminal Blog. What better way to mark the occasion than with this?



Sean Phillips has just published what he has since explained to be a "sketch" of the wraparound cover art for the next issue of Criminal.

(As I told Sean in reply, if that's just a sketch, I can't wait to see the final version. Even in its rough state, it's more striking than most of what you see on the shelves.)

The full image and a link to a full-size version are available at his blog.

It is just a preliminary work, but some brief analysis may be in order.
  • The image filename -- "CRIM02.8d_cvr.jpg" -- confirms that this is the draft art (which would explain the "d") for Volume 2, Issue 8, but this issue number is missing from the sketch that otherwise contains a lot of what one would expect from the final image: the title, the Icon logo, the price, and white space for the UPC barcode. It's possible that, particularly in light of the surprise success of Incognito, the issue number will be downplayed on the cover, in favor of the numbering for the individual story arc.

    This decision would be the inverse of what Dark Horse Comics did with the title that was eventually known as Star Wars Republic. For its first two arcs, Prelude to Rebellion and Outlander, the cover only listed the numbering for the individual story arc in the upper left corner, as if each arc was a separate mini-series. With the third arc, the cover listed both the story-arc numbering (1 of 6) and the monthly numbering (13), and the former disappeared from the cover altogether with the "Republic" rebranding at issue 46.

    If Criminal does drop the numbering of the ongoing title, or at least remove the numbering from the cover, it may be in an attempt to attract new readers who would otherwise be reluctant to jump into a series at issue #8 or so. It would be a reflection of the fact that the title is ultimately a series of interconnecting but really self-contained story arcs.

  • In the top left corner of what will be the front cover, we have a small version of the Criminal title above the logo for the Icon imprint. Keeping the title in this location would allow Sean Phillips to move the large title further down, as he does here, while making the issue easy to spot on comic book racks and in longboxes of back issues. I would expect to see Phillips incorporate the title into the cover art in more interesting ways -- as he did occasionally with Sleeper, especially Season 2, Issue 2.

  • This preliminary art has been released just a few days after Marvel's August solicitations. From following his blog over the last few years, I gather that Sean's first completed work for any issue is usually the cover art, to be included in the solicitation: he showcased the final cover art for the previous issue in late June 2008, about a month before it was solicited. I doubt that this new issue would be added to Marvel's August 2009 solicitations -- I'm not even sure it's possible to add it after the fact -- and I doubt the cover art is being completed now for the October solicitations, which we would expect to be released in two months. So, I strongly suspect that this issue will be scheduled for a September release.

  • Finally, as rough as this first sketch might be, I think it's clear confirmation of what Ed Brubaker relayed way back in September: the return of Criminal will also mark the return of Tracy Lawless.
I really dig the twisted spy story of Sleeper and the "Apocalyptic Pulp Noir" of Incognito, but since it hasn't been "stepped on" and diluted with superhero tropes, Criminal is the purest form of the heavy narcotic that Brubaker and Phillips produce. I can't wait for my next fix, and I'm ecstatic to see confirmation that it's on its way.


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Short Essay on Criminal, in Great Escape Comics Newsletter.

I've occasionally mentioned my friendly neighborhood comics retailer, Great Escape Comics in Marietta, Georgia. The good folks there have begun publishing a shop newsletter: the premiere issue is now available online in PDF format, and on page 5 is an essay I contributed to the issue. Excerpted below, the essay is a brief introduction to my favorite comic book series.
Criminal features a series of self-contained but interlocking crime stories, where a tightly constructed plot is driven by one of a growing number of engrossing characters: the master thief whose ability to survive has earned him a reputation for cowardice; the troubled soldier who, when enlisting to avoid prison, abandoned his now-murdered younger brother; and the insomniac who is drawn into his old life of forgery, in part because he compared himself to the hard-boiled detective in the comic strip he draws. Their stories are effective thrillers, but they are also tragic character studies, where the readers slowly learn that their defeats and pyrrhic victories are often the result of their own deeply-rooted flaws.

Each story arc in Criminal can be thoroughly understood and enjoyed in isolation, but together they are creating a sprawling city with decades of history. Themes recur time and again, the most significant theme being family, the responsibility of caring for your family and the scars that can be caused by those who cared for you. Though he hasn’t been featured as a central character in any single issue, we discover why the man who took his father’s place as the city’s mob boss would tell the fugitive solider that "family is a trap."
That last observation concerns Sebastian Hyde: the story that is slowly revealed in the flashback tales in The Dead and The Dying adds a new layer of meaning to his later conversation with Tracy Lawless, seen at the end of the previous arc.

As usual, I see where my prose could be improved, and the essay that was written a few months ago now seems somewhat out of date: it now appears that Criminal will not return in June or July -- its return will be no earlier than August, probably September -- and I'm rethinking the Bat-related titles in my pull list, in light of Battle for the Cowl, which brought to a close Paul Dini's consistently enjoyable run on Detective Comics.

All that said, I think it's a good introduction to Criminal for Great Escape customers and others. (And if any of our readers lives near Marietta, I recommend Great Escape Comics without reservation.)

For those Criminal fans who want an easy way to introduce the title to their friends, I recommend these links which I've posted before. They're links to free previews of the first two story arcs, each covering a full issue's worth of material.

Criminal Volume 1, Issue 1: Part One of "Coward"
http://tinyurl.com/2a9jle

Criminal Volume 1, Issue 6: Part One of "Lawless"
http://tinyurl.com/2cctg4


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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New Editions of Sleeper: Prelude on Sale Now, Final Volume Out in September.

The first of the new trade paperback collections of Ed Brubaker's Sleeper story for WildStorm comics is now in stores, and it has just been revealed that the final collection will hit stores in late September.

First, as we reported earlier, the new edition of Point Blank was scheduled for a May 6 release, and it appears that it was released on time.

Point Blank is a five-issue mini-series that was originally published in late 2002 and early 2003. Written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Colin Wilson, it focuses on Cole Cash -- better known in the WildStorm universe as Grifter -- and his investigation into the shooting of spymaster John Lynch. The story leads directly into Sleeper, Brubaker's first major collaboration with Sean Phillips, a series that began immediately after the conclusion of Point Blank.

The two titles are sufficiently self-contained to be read and enjoyed separately, but they really belong together, and combined they tell the really twisted and quite epic story of a spy who loses his bearings infiltrating an international criminal organization, working all the way up to its virtual heart of darkness. Probably in light of Brubaker and Phillips' well-earned success, DC Comics is reprinting the trade collections: the company is officially branding Point Blank as a "prelude" to Sleeper; to make the connection even more emphatic, DC has also given this edition new cover art by Sean Phillips.

It appears that the new trade of Point Blank is already on sale. As soon as I get my own copy, I'll post an update if there is any new material worth mentioning. In the meantime, DC has a six-page PDF preview of the trade collection at the book's official listing. (H/t Jog)

The proper story of Sleeper was told over the course of 24 issues, split into two "seasons," and originally collected in four volumes. For the new editions, the story is being collected into two volumes whose total cost is less expensive than the original collections. The first season's volume is scheduled to be released on June 17th, and DC's August solicitations now reveal an advance-solicited sale date of September 23rd for the second and final volume.

In addition to the 12 issues of Season Two, this final collection will inclued "the never-before-collected prequel story from COUP D’ETAT: AFTERWORD."

Coup D'Etat was a four-issue mini-series that shook up the WildStorm universe, and one issue featured a Sleeper story written by Ed Brubaker, but I have never found that this story, also available in trade paperback, really added to the story that Brubaker and Phillips were telling: I don't remember that it was even referenced in Sleeper, and so it's entirely inessential to that story. This "afterward" story, however, appears to be the season-two prequel that Brubaker mentioned last year. Despite its inclusion in a comic book with the "Coup D'Etat" branding, this story might add another wrinkle to the Sleeper collections.

Marvel's August solicitations were also released this week, and I see that no Icon books have been included: no trade collection for Incognito and -- more importantly -- no new issue of Criminal. I still estimate that the latter will return around late August or early September, and it looks like September is more likely.

We'll still have a lot to look out for this summer: the two new collections of Sleeper and the last three issues of Incognito.

Particularly if you haven't read Sleeper before, I strongly recommend that you get all three of the new trade paperbacks, as the story is definitely worth reading.


UPDATE, June 17: Above I wrote that I would provide an update about Point Blank "if there is any new material worth mentioning."

I never did provide that follow-up, because that book contained no significant changes, other than the new cover art by Sean Phillips. The book's paper is very slightly different, and the colors are almost imperceptibly brighter. The cover's spine includes the Sleeper icon to match the two season collections coming out this summer, and the cover includes two new blurbs. The back cover has a different image from inside the book, but almost identical text.

(The text mentions Criminal and Incognito in reference to Ed Brubaker, making it clear precisely who DC is targeting, and the text mentions that the book "serves as a prequel" to Sleeper. That last bit annoys me, because I think, strictly speaking, prequels come out after a work to relay earlier events. Because Point Blank was published first, it's more properly a "prelude" as the front cover describes it.)

Inside, the title page and copyright information are updated slightly, and the back page has a new advertisement for other WildStorm collections, including the upcoming Sleeper season-long trades. Everything else, including the actual story and Brubaker's original afterword, seems completely unchanged, down to a small typo on page two of part two.

If you already have Point Blank, this isn't an essential purchase, but I do strongly recommend the story for anyone else. Even those wholly unfamiliar with the WildStorm universe should find this book to tell a compelling, self-contained tale that is an excellent companion to the proper story of Sleeper.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bullets: Double-Issue Incognito, Brubaker Interviews, Parker Preview, &c.

Here's the latest news from the world of Criminal and Incognito, with a little extra information regarding some of Ed Brubaker's other work, a couple interviews, and more.
  • Incognito Must-Have One-Shot. The Incognito double-issue "one-shot," which we announced earlier, has been released today, as scheduled.

    For those who haven't picked it up yet, it's the first time a Brubaker/Phillips comic from Icon does not feature a wrap-around cover: the back cover displays half-sized versions of the cover art for the first printing of the first two issues. Inside, the $4.99 issue includes little more than the first two chapters of the story of Zack Overkill. It omits Ed Brubaker's notes page and Jess Nevins' first two essays on pulp heroes, leaving only enough room for an ad for Criminal and an announcement that the third issue of Incognito is already in stores "because the sick fun is just beginning!"

    I would consider this issue necessary only for true completists; the more new readers can catch up with the story, the better.

  • Ed Brubaker's Marvel Solicitations. A couple weeks ago, Marvel released its full solicitations for July, and I've already noted the solicitation and scheduled release date for the conclusion to Incognito. What I didn't note was that the first comic listed is "Reborn #1," the first part of a five-issue mini-series written by Brubaker and drawn by Bryan Hitch, with covers by Hitch, Alex Ross, and John Cassaday. The solicitation contains no further information, and I haven't seen much else about the comic beyond reader speculation.

    This week, Comic Book Resources posted an image related to June's issue of Captain America, where the series reverts to the original numbering (#600 instead of #51). Brubaker has mentioned a big summer event for Marvel that has, thus far, remained mostly a secret. The project is apparently "Reborn," and this image related to Captain America might also have something to do with the upcoming mini-series.

    [UPDATE, May 14: In a CBR interview posted today, Captain America editor Tom Brevoort reveals that the teaser image we briefly mentioned in April is almost certainly tied to "Reborn." Asked about the ad, Brevoort responds with information that coincides with what little was available from the solicitation: "It's written by Ed, drawn by Bryan Hitch, and will be of immediate interest to anybody reading Marvel Comics."]

  • Brubaker Interviews, Preview of Darwyn Cooke's Parker. I've come across two online interviews with Ed Brubaker, and both are worth a mention. First, a couple months ago, Chris Mautner posted a lengthy interview, conducted around the time of the debut of Incognito. (Hat-tip to Robot 6.)

    Brubaker discusses the story's themes of identity and how they tie to Zack's being a twin, the inherent tragedy of noir, and the hard edge of classic pulp. He talks about working on multiple series with Sean Phillips, the success of Criminal in both monthly and trade formats, and the differences between his creator-owned work and his work for-hire for DC and Marvel.

    More recently, Brubaker was a "special guest" for a Comics Reporter interview of Darwyn Cooke, focusing on the Cooke's upcoming comic adaptation of the first Parker novel, written by Donald Westlake under the psuedonym Richard Stark.

    (The page may take quite a while to load: it consistently loads slowly for me, because, I suspect, the page is waiting for files from a very sluggish ad site.)

    The interview, conducted by Tom Spurgeon, is something of a long love letter to the crime fiction of the late Westlake, who passed away just a few months ago, but it also covers Brubaker and Cooke's collaborative work on Catwoman, Cooke's praise for Criminal, and the moral code that guides each protagonist in the series.

    Perhaps most notably, the interview points to a lengthy, 21-page PDF preview of the first Parker adaptation, The Hunter. With its monochrome art and thirteen consecutive pages without almost any dialogue, the book is very, very striking. It's scheduled to be released by IDW this July, and I know I'm ordering a copy.

  • Preview Art at Sean Phillips' Blog. Brubaker isn't the only one who's been busy. Sean Phillips continues to feature preview art at his blog, both for the upcoming Criminal short story for Dark Horse Noir, and for Incognito. Highlights include the first look at the sexually deviant husband for the short story, "21st Century Noir," and a first look at Professor Zeppelin.

    Phillips' fans should also check out a sketch of a zombie Sentry, drawn at the Bristol Comic Expo.

  • A Question of Copyright. Finally, speaking of Phillips' blog, during the course of a conversation in the comments, I noticed that Criminal and Incognito do not have the same copyright notice.

    Everywhere I've seen Criminal published, the copyright is for Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, but Incognito has a copyright of "Basement Gang, Inc.," which appears to be a small company owned by Ed Brubaker and his wife, independent filmmaker Melanie Tomlin. I'm curious to know if anyone knows the reason behind the different copyrights.
In addition to reading Incognito, I've been watching baseball and keeping up with Hard Case Crime and the definitive editions of Greg Rucka's Queen & Country, but I'll keep an eye peeled for more news and previews.


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