In Gotham Central, Brubaker explored the lives of regular cops in Gotham Cityand what it was like living under the shadow of Batman.
With the Criminal series, he goes one up. First off, there’s no Batman or any other superhero/vigilante. Second, it’s a story about crime from the criminal’s point of view. According to Brubaker, he wanted to portray “criminals who, as far as their morality goes, they steal, or kill, but they’re good people somehow anyway.”
Criminal brings together an interesting cast of characters. You’ve pickpockets, hit-men, femme fatales, crooked cops, forgers, get-away drivers… just about every type of criminal archetype you can think of. Furthermore, the series focuses on not one, but two generations of criminals. The result is a fraternity that hangs out at the same bars, know of each other’s expertise, know each others history, may not necessarily work together, but know the same people.
The first volume consists of two stories told across ten issues.
The first story, Coward, is the story of Leo – a man who’s great at planning complex jobs, but chooses to remain a pickpocket. Leo lives his life by a few inviolable rules: never carry a gun, never take a chance and never pick a fight. He has no qualms about running away from a job if there’s the slightest chance of something going wrong. The storyline revolves around a heist that goes wrong. The second story, Lawless, tells the story of Tracy Lawless, a soldier who goes AWOL when he comes to know that his brother was killed back home and sets out to find out who killed his brother and why.
If there’s one thing better than these classic noir storylines and characters, it’s the art of Sean Phillips. The stories may be a bit clichéd, but their depiction makes them realistic and believable. It’s dark, gritty and makes you feel like you’re watching an on-screen drama unfold. The pacing is brilliant and the writing doesn’t go overboard on swearing (which often takes away from the realism of crime thrillers).
This is what I liked about it: You know it’s a noir; you know things aren’t going to have a happy ending; you empathise with some part of every character; and you cannot put it down. And if, like me, you’re a noir fan, then the last pages of each comic hold a treat for you. Brubaker and other writers have written about their own noir favourites in books and movies! Do read those… it’s the ultimate list of movie/book recommendations in the genre.
Oh… almost forgot… the series got the Eisner in 2007 for the ‘Best New Series’.