Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are a comic book dream team. These guys have produced some of the best, most prolific comics of the modern age. When their names are on the cover, you can count on finding quality, brutality, darkness, and beauty within. Now, they are treating us with a brief return to one of their true masterpieces, Criminal. It’s only a one-shot, but any time we get to spend in this brutal and bleak world is time well spent. Criminal makes us feel dirty, violent, and depressed, but in a way that keeps us coming back and begging for more.
This issue focuses on Teeg Lawless and a brief stint he did in county jail. Teeg is a huge figure in the Criminal mythos, a shadow that looms large over the entire series. Here, he is paralleled with Zangar, a Conan the Barbarian-like figure. We jump back and forth between pages from Zangar’s comic series and Teeg’s quest to stay alive in prison. It’s engaging as all hell and a welcome reminder as to how great the Criminal books are.
Sean Philips is in top form in this issue. He effortlessly jumps from the comic within the comic and back to the prison setting. There’s even a tripped out acid-induced scene that allows him to stretch his figures and go a little nuts. It’s all gravy. Philips, without a doubt, draws the most beat-down, broken characters ever. They are flawed people, inside and out, and he brings that to light in a stunning fashion.
Elizabeth Breitweiser handles the colors and her work really enhances the story. She often has the colors bleed and break the line, showing us that nothing in the Criminal world is whole and perfect. The book looks and feels dirty, which is large part due to Breitweiser. Teaming up with her is one of smartest things that Brubaker and Philips have done. She completes their work, in a way. Criminal has never looked better.
One of the coolest things about Criminal is that each story stands on its own. If you’ve never read the series, you can – and you really, really should – jump in with this issue. There’s a larger tapestry to the work, a web that weaves through all the characters, but you can also just enjoy wallowing in the muck for a while and never journey further. Ed Brubaker is quite possibly the best comic writer in the industry today, and when he teams up with Sean Phillips, they form an unstoppable juggernaut. Buy this comic, guys. Buy two and give one to somebody who seems too happy and full of life. Suck the wind out of their sails.