Friday, January 29, 2010

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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