Monday, January 07, 2019

CRIMINAL returns this week! Undertow Podcast on the Criminal Chronology, OK Comics Appearance, and More Sean Phillips in The Criterion Collection!

Criminal #1 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is in stores THIS WEDNESDAY, with Image Comics using the front page of their website to promote the issue, recommend earlier volumes, and treat comic-book fans to two views of Teeg Lawless, who has seen better days.

We have a few things of our own to cover in the run-up to our favorite series' long-awaited return.

Overnight, our friend Robert Watson released the latest episode of The Undertow Podcast.  Robert and I wanted to get ourselves and our listeners ready for the return of Criminal as a monthly series, so we took a look at all the previous story arcs. 

Titled "A Criminal Family Tree," Episode 28 recounts the multiple generations of the series' flawed but often sympathetic criminals -- four generations by our count -- and we tackled the stories by their rough chronological setting than by their publication date.

Looking at that publication history, we find that we can group the arcs into several distinct eras:
  • 2006-2008, ongoing titles at Icon: Criminal Volumes 1 & 2
  • 2009-2011, named mini-series at Icon: "The Sinners" & "Last of the Innocent"
  • 2015-2018, self-contained books at Image: one-shots & the Junkies novella 
We're now back to an ongoing title, Criminal Volume 3, being published by Image Comics.  Since the emphasis is on the individual, monthly issue, we're curious about how these issues will be subsequently collected.

But looking at the internal chronology, we see that story arcs fall into one of two categories:
  • Flashback period pieces, where the year in which the story is set is typically stated explicitly
  • Contemporary stories, where the year is, at best, implied
(For the latter, I have always presumed that these stories roughly correspond to the original year of publication.)

Ed Brubaker has always said that each story stands alone and can serve as its own entry point into the Criminal universe.  That's true -- with the possible exception of "The Sinners" -- and yet Robert and I believe that the best "first read" is in publication order.

(The same is true for other works, including the Star Wars movies and the Narnia books, notwithstanding publishers' strained explanations for packaging the works according to their internal chronology and thus placing the iconic first work published -- 1977's Star Wars, now marketed as a "A New Hope;" and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe -- in the middle of a larger box set that might encourage the purchase of the omnibus set.  I carefully chose which Star Wars movie I showed my kids first, and I know how I'm introducing them to The Chronicles of Narnia.)

But if you've already enjoyed all the Criminal books, reading them in the order of their internal chronology may shed some new light on the stories.

In the image above, we place Image's trade paperbacks in the order of that narrative timeline -- period pieces on the first row, contemporary pieces on the second row -- and going by the "March, 1988" date in Brubaker's ten-page preview, the new issue fits right in between the earlier flashback chapters and the contemporary chapters about Tracy, Leo, and the gang.

We CERTAINLY do not recommend this podcast episode as any kind of substitute for reading the actual comics, but we hope current fans find the episode as interesting as we did.

For this episode, I made a somewhat unusual recommendation of the massive, 1000-page-plus hardcover collection of the minicomics published with the toys for Masters of the Universe.  It's a helluva nostalgia hit for a very particular generation of kids, but it also has a Criminal connection in its contributions from Val Staples, who colored the earliest Icon issues for Brubaker and Phillips.

There's also a more indirect connection.  Thirty-odd issues of this series comprised my first comic-book reading, and it probably influenced my later enjoyment of Robert E. Howard's Conan, both the original pulp stories and the comic books, especially those written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith, published by Marvel in the 1970's.  Those barbarian stories from comics' Bronze Age had an apparent effect on a young Ed Brubaker -- about ten years my senior -- and we see that influence in the "Savage Sword" one-shot from 2015.

We can see the obvious influences below:

On the left is the cover to The Savage Sword of Conan #16, which features part one of a two-part Thomas & Windsor-Smith adaptation of a Bran Mak Morn story from Howard, "Worms of the Earth."  The entire story was reprinted, with new coloring that was quite well done, in issue #1 of the 2010 Dark Horse book called Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword.  Sean Phillips contributed to issue #4 of the same anthology series in 2012, in a monochromatic story "White Death" written by Pete Doree.

In the middle is a page from the very first mini-comic, He-Man and the Power Sword, the same artwork that dominates the collection's front cover.  Just a few years ago, the artist known as SiMo Sol created a gorgeous, detailed homage to the iconic page.

On the right is the cover to the magazine-sized variant to the Criminal Special Edition one-shot, featuring Zangar the Barbarian.  This larger edition was made to look like a replica of the fictional comic book from the 1970's, and the credits page attributes the character of Zangar to the pulp writer in Fatale, Alfred Ravenscroft -- a kind of hybrid between Robert E. Howard and his friend H.P. Lovecraft.

The similarities aren't just what's obvious -- the strong-man hero (or anti-hero), the beautiful woman, the villainous sorcerer and strange beasts.  In making this montage, I noticed that all the pages have essentially the same dimensions:  the original pulp comic from 1976, the shrunk-down and more kid-friendly minicomic from the early 80's, and the homage from the 21st century.

The new issue of Criminal isn't the only work by Sean Phillips to be released this month.  On Twitter, @gonzomike highlighted an upcoming release from The Criterion Collection, of the 1967 Oscar winner, In The Heat of the Night.  The home release is scheduled for January 9th, and it features a "New Cover by Sean Phillips," shown below.

Finally, Brits who want to ask Sean Phillips about Criminal or The Criterion Collection will soon have a chance to do so, as Leeds' OK Comics has announced an event for this Saturday, January 12th, celebrating the launch of the new series with signings by artist Sean Phillips and new colorist Jacob Phillips.

I'm sure we'll have more to cover later this month, as the comics world reacts to this high-profile first issue.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer Posts Older Posts