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Comic Review – Criminal: Coward

Criminal #1–5 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Crime comics have always worked well – this could be the fact that superhero comics are based on the whole ‘fighting crime’ concept, I don’t know. There has been a good ratio of quality to noise in the pure crime comics, even if they don’t last as long as they could– Damned, Scene of the Crime, Gotham Central (even Powers and Top Ten help the cause). And now we can add Criminal to the list, and hope that it lasts a long time.

Leo Patterson is a criminal who doesn’t get caught because he can see all the angles, but he stays alive because he is a coward who will run away if necessary. His father was a pickpocket, and his crime partner, Ivan, taught Leo everything he knew – Leo’s father died in jail, while Ivan is now an old man on heroin who is losing his mind, so Leo tries to look after him.

Leo is approached by Seymour, an old criminal acquaintance, who has a job for him with a cop, Jeff, who has details of a job to steal diamonds from a police evidence van. Leo doesn’t want to do it, but Seymour gets Greta, the widow of one of Leo’s old colleagues who died on a botched job with Leo some years earlier (everyone except Leo died). However, unbeknownst to them, the cop with the job is working for a particularly unpleasant gangster who wants his goods back.

Leo comes up with the plan, but insists on no guns – ‘I’m not ending up on Death Row because some more listened to too much hip hop growing up.’ But Jeff brings in two more of his people for the job, over Leo’s protests, which makes Leo realise that they are going to screw him over.

The job goes smoothly – Leo has plans on top of plans, with distractions as well – until Seymour and Jeff fuck them over in the middle of the job, not after as Leo thought. Fortunately, he has a back-up plan for escape, which he does with Greta (who has been shot), only to find out it’s not diamonds – it’s drugs.

Leo and Greta hole up in a safe place to fix her up, and Leo gets Ivan out there as well, because he is the only one who can handle him. Leo and Greta end up in bed together, only for Ivan to find the stash. Meanwhile, Jeff and the gangsters find Greta’s mum, who has her daughter, setting up for the final act, where Leo breaks all the rules that have kept him alive all this time.

The sharply constructed plot and taut dialogue of Brubaker is matched by the atmospheric and perfect art of Phillips. Leo is a fascinating character, and Brubaker brings him and the rest of the cast to life in a moody, nourish world that you can practically smell. This is a great start to what will be a collection of stories linked around common elements, and I hope that enough people pick it up so that we can keep on getting more quality stories. I mean, all this brilliant crime comics, and Frank Kafka, Private Eye, the existential cartoon strip. What more do you need?

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