Friday, January 29, 2010

...And Looking Ahead to 2010.

There's only so much public information about what's coming in the next few months, but I'll review what's already known and what's likely.

First -- and most immediately -- issue #4 of Criminal: The Sinners is in stores February 3rd, and yesterday Comic Book Resources posted a six-page preview of the story's penultimate issue, which resolves last issue's cliffhanger with a little violence and a surprising amount of humor.

It's worth noting that the second and third pages -- presumably facing pages -- break somewhat from the series' familiar three-row pattern. This is only the second time that page layout has changed, the first being in the first page in "Second Chance in Hell," from Volume #2, Issue #1.

After that?

The fifth and final issue of Criminal: The Sinners should be released in just a few more weeks. As of the time of this writing, has the issue still scheduled for its original solicitation date of February 24th, and Sean Phillips is already working on the finale.

Marvel's solicitations for March and April mention no new Icon material from Brubaker and Phillips. If history is any guide, we should still see the trade collection for "The Sinners" sooner rather than later -- May would be my guess.

The next arc after "The Sinners" may well be the sequel to Incognito, if plans haven't changed from interviews Brubaker gave last April and August. Brubaker may have alluded to this sequel in the afterward to the mini-series' trade paperback, apparently written this past October.
"If you like Incognito, you'll be pleased to hear there's more coming next year. Hopefully a lot more, because I've got quite a few ideas that I want to get in this little pulp world we created."
A five- or six-issue sequel that is published monthly and begins in April or May will get us to fall.

Beyond that, who knows? I do hope that Criminal isn't eclipsed by the Incognito universe, and I hope that we're still going to see "Coward's Way Out," the story of Leo's prison break, which was, according to Brubaker, pushed back in favor of "The Sinners."

What I find really interesting is DC's April solicitations [link corrected Feb 16], which provide an advance solicitation for the third hardcover collection for Ed Brubaker's Gotham Central.
Advance-solicited • On sale JUNE 9 • 224 pg, FC $29.99 US

Detective Renee Montoya investigates the disappearance of evidence amid a gang war and travels to Keystone City in an attempt to unveil the truth about a fellow officer’s strange mutation in this collection featuring issues #23-31 of the award-winning series. Plus, the dead body of Robin, the Boy Wonder, is found on the streets, forcing the detectives to solve the case while dealing with Batman and The Teen Titans.
The first two volumes collected ten issues and twelve issues, so if the entire, 40-issue series is going to be collected in hardcover editions, one would expect the third collection and the final collection each to contain nine issues. This solicitation meets that expectation.

Even though this book contains fewer issues, its retail price is still $29.99, but the price didn't go up for the twelve-issue second volume, either. If all forty issues are released in four volumes at this price, then the MSRP is essentially $3.00 an issue, which isn't bad considering the series' original cover price of $2.50.

What's really odd, though, is that the solicitation mentions "issues #23-31" but clearly alludes to the story, "Dead Robin," found in issues #33-36. Presently the official site has the same discrepancy, but I suspect that these hardcover collections will contain the entire run -- as the softcover volumes did not -- and that the "Dead Robin" arc will be left for the final nine-issue volume.

(Leaving "Dead Robin" to the last collection makes sense in terms of trade dress, anyway: it's Brubaker's last arc on the series, so saving it for Book Four will allow all the covers to give the same prominent attribution to both Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka.)

I'll update the blog if and when the discrepancy is addressed -- or, in the worst case, when I buy and open my copy of the book.

In the meantime, Criminal: The Sinners #4 is in stores this upcoming Wednesday.

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Looking Back on 2009...

I never did get around to one last post to wrap up the year, and A Criminal Blog has been pretty quiet since. I've found a couple new items worth a remark or two, but first, 2009 deserves a quick review as possibly the most successful year so far for Brubaker and Phillips' collaborative work.

We saw 2008 end with the conclusion of "Bad Night," a story that was twisted and intricately plotted even for Criminal, and its trade paperback collection was published at the end of January, 2009.

But the year really began with Incognito, the "apocalyptic pulp noir" whose first issue reached stores over New Year's. It tweaked the visual style of Criminal and told a story that reversed the undercover premise of Sleeper, all while introducing a new super-powered universe that we should visit again soon.

Like Ed Brubaker's Captain America: Reborn, which began later in the year, Incognito was originally a five-issue mini-series and ended up expanding into a sixth issue. The title was surprisingly successful commercially, leading to a reprint of issue #1 and the "must-have one shot" collecting the first two issues -- both a first for Brubaker and Phillips' work at Icon.

Over the course of the summer, DC Comics republished the complete Sleeper, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' first major collaboration. They first released a new trade paperback edition of the prelude story Point Blank, featuring new cover art by Sean Phillips, and then DC released a complete twelve-issue collection for each of the two "seasons" of Sleeper. These last two trades are less expensively priced than the earlier four-volume set, and the second trade includes a prologue story that has never been collected before.

Incognito reached its violent conclusion in September, kicking off a very busy fall season. Along with the final Sleeper collection, DC published the second hardcover collection for Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka's Gotham Central, the critically acclaimed series that would eventually feature cover art by Sean Phillips.

Icon published the trade paperback collection for Incognito, where Brubaker explained in the afterward that Jess Nevins' essay on the "zeppelin pulps" wasn't entirely rooted in history.

And then there was Criminal: The Deluxe Edition. Along with the stories from the first three trade collections, the beautiful oversized hardcover includes some 70 pages of extra content, pretty much everything a fan would want:
  • all of Sean Phillips' cover art for the individual issues and the trades
  • all of Phillps' art for the supplemental essays, along with the essays Ed Brubaker wrote himself
  • the five-page "trailer" that introduced the series to the world
  • the Criminal prose story "Caught in the Undertow" from the very first issue
  • the Criminal "emission" called "No One Rides for Free," from Liberty Comics #1
  • and a brief glimpse behind the scenes, showing Phillips' process for creating the cover and for translating the script to the page
To say that this book is a "must-have" is a gross understatement.

Fall wasn't just a busy time for reprints, as October finally saw the return of Criminal, first in the debut issue of Criminal: The Sinners, and then in the twisted black-and-white short story "21st Century Noir," found in the Dark Horse anthology Noir: A Collection of Crime Comics.

The third issue of "The Sinners" reached stores the week before Christmas. The five-issue arc features the return of Tracy Lawless, who is hunting down a killer for mob boss Sebastian Hyde, all while he is being hunted for going AWOL. Surprisingly, the mini-series revealed at least part of the mystery in the very first issue, but we're entering the new year still waiting for all the pieces to fit together.

Incredibly, almost everything Brubaker and Phillips have ever produced together was released or republished in 2009, from Sleeper to Criminal to Incognito.

(A complete compilation of their collaborative work would include 1999's Scene of the Crime, where, for the last three issues, Phillips did the inks over Michael Lark's pencils; Gotham Central, where Phillips began cover art work in issue #33, before Brubaker left with issue #36; and the prestige-format Elseworlds story, Batman: Gotham Noir. I found a copy of this book at last year's Dragon*Con in Atlanta, but I don't believe this book has ever been republished. From 2001, this book is, I believe, the first work that could really be considered a comic book by Brubaker and Phillips.)

Sleeper and Incognito are easy enough to collect with three trade paperbacks -- four, if you count Point Blank.

Criminal, on the other hand, debuted in late 2006, is in the middle of its fifth arc, and has had two short-story "emissions" released in separate anthologies. Still, one can collect the entire Criminal canon up to this point with 2009 releases: Criminal: The Deluxe Edition, the "Bad Night" trade paperback, the Dark Horse Noir anthology, and the first three issues of Criminal: The Sinners.

It's been a busy year for Ed Brubaker. In mainstream comics, Brubaker wrapped up his acclaimed run on Daredevil, and he began Captain America: Reborn and The Marvels Project. Perhaps more interestingly, his live-action mini-series Angel of Death debuted online, was shown on Spike TV, and was released on DVD.

It's also been a good year in general for crime, noir, and pulp comics.

We saw the finale of 100 Bullets and the debut of the surprise hit Chew -- a twisted comic that I find to be the perfect complement to Criminal.

Marvel introduced its series of "Noir" stories riffing on traditional Marvel characters; DC released the first comic book in a pulp universe guided by Brian Azzarello and featuring Doc Savage, the Spirit, and "the Batman;" Dark Horse published the afore-mentioned Noir anthology; and Vertigo debuted its series of original graphic novels, Vertigo Crime.

Boom Studios began its 24-issue maxi-series illustrating Philip K. Dick's neo-noir, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

And, last but certainly not least, Darwyn Cooke released his first adaptation of Richard Stark's Parker, in the beautiful but brutal hardcover, The Hunter.

The Sleeper adaptation, currently attached to Tom Cruise, may eventually move from development to the theaters, or -- who knows? -- Criminal might eventually become a live-action mini-series on HBO.

But until then, fans should look back on 2009 as a high-water mark, as a very good year indeed.

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