Written by Ed Brubaker
Illustrated by Sean Phillips and Val Staples
Things are going from bad to worse… One-time All-American Boy, Riley Richards is caught in a brutal murder and double-cross that may be his only way out of the trap his life has become! And as always, each issue of CRIMINAL contains unique back-up features, articles, and artwork, which are only available in the single issues.
Criminal is back. Well, it has been back for a little while now, but I’m just as excited as I was when the new mini was first announced. How does it compare to the preceding volumes? Follow the cut and see.
As a fan of film noir, crime comics and Ed Brubaker’s work in general, I started reading Criminal as soon as I heard about it, and the various stories have been some of my favorite comics ever since. Last of the Innocent, though, is shaping up to be the best Criminal story yet – and we’re only two issues in! Everything that the Criminal team does well is done extraordinarily so in this issue: Brubaker gives us his own, excellent and unique voice, while still evoking the greats of both mediums; Sean Phillips offers up a heavily lined style that is somehow both classic and modern; and, of course, good lord those Val Staples colors. In previous stories, the three creators were firing on all cylinders. This time around, they’ve upgraded the engine.
In its simplest form, the story isn’t anything special: our “protagonist,” Riley, wants to kill his cheating wife. But, of course, noir isn’t about the story itself, but the characters that are involved and the way that the story is told. What makes this story special is Riley: his nostalgia for the past completely changes the story at hand. Everything he does is out of a misplaced desire to turn back the clock and have everything set to the way things were in the good ol’ days. It isn’t exactly a new idea, but Brubaker takes it to absolutely chilling new depths. When Riley (spoilers, I guess) kills his wife, it isn’t out of any sort of revenge. Riley so desperately wants things the way they were before Felix that he regards her more as just a “thing” that caused all of this. And how could he hate a “thing” like one hates a person? Riley’s nostalgia is deep enough to reduce Felix in his mind from a complex person to a singular cause, an object that he simply needs to remove to set things right, though – and that’s creepy. We all have had the desire to change the past, though, and Brubaker gives us a character that any one of us could easily turn into based on that desire – and that’s noir.
As said before, the other side of noir is the way that the story is told. While Brubaker certainly deserves a good deal of credit for the structure of the comic’s narrative, it’s Sean Phillips and Val Staples who truly deserve massive acclaim. In the present, we’re given the standard Criminal look – of course, though, the “standard Criminal look” is outstanding. What really makes comic shine, though, is the style that the artistic duo uses for the flashback sequences. By presenting them in the old-timey, family-friendly comics style that they use, Phillips and Staples really drive the theme home. The comic wouldn’t be near as effective if the flashbacks contained within kept the same style as the rest of the book. Instead, Phillips and Staples create this whimsical look that gives us a peak through Riley’s Archie-tinted glasses. What we see first is how superficially happy everything looks, and not the problems that are lurking underneath. It’s a brilliant stroke, and Phillips and Staples pull it off like the masters of their craft they are.
Since it began, Criminal has been a shining example of what crime comics should be, and Last of the Innocent is shaping up to be the Criminal comic that everybody needs to read. If you’re not reading this… well, I’m not going to insult you, since we all have our own preferences, but I will flat out admit that I don’t understand you. Never has a book gotten me this excited only two issues in.Continued below
Final Verdict: 9.5 – Buy it!