Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips throw a curveball with Criminal #2, which delivers a welcome look behind the curtain of the comic book creative process.
There are great teams on comics right through the ages: Lee and Kirby, Denny O’Neil and Neil Adams, Morrison and Quitely. Yet Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are often neglected, despite what is quite frankly an incredible body of work. Their latest collaboration on another volume of Criminal hit stands last month, and you can read a review of issue one elsewhere on the site. Already they have another fascinating run in development.
Criminal #2 is a curveball of a story that does not follow on from the first issue and takes a leaf from the controversial book of Howard Chaykin by bringing us the tale of an elder comic book statesman, dropping us into the inky well of his not-so-rosy past.
The story starts with Hal Crane, comic artist and the creator of kids’ cartoon TV sensation Danny Dagger and the Fantasticals. Crane is looking for a minder to escort him to Comic Fest, where he is to pick up a lifetime achievement awards and do a few panels. He enlists the help of Jacob, who used to work for him and is a huge fan, although well aware of his terrible demeanor towards all around him.
When the pair travel to the convention, we start to see the poison-filled Crane at his most odious, as he meets with sleazy fraudsters, falsifying animated cells and assaulting cosplayers. Things then get even nastier as Crane decides to track down some of his missing original art, and the innocent Jacob is dragged into the plan.
Criminal #2 is another great issue, from this amazing creative team. The story cracks along at a great pace, and the namedropping of real creators from comic book history gives the reader the feeling that there is a blurring here of fantasy and reality that is hard to separate.
We have all heard the tales of Stan Lee (bless his soul) being somewhat liberal about the truth behind Marvel’s most iconic creations, and there are similar themes at work here. In a text piece at the back of the book, Brubaker makes it clear that this story is not meant to be “an expose of the comics industry.” It’s a crime story that just happens to take place around the world of sequential art, but you still can’t help but wonder how much may be based on truth.
Art-wise, Phillips as usual nails every page. His loose washed-out style creates the mood of the piece perfectly, and he captures the details and careful nuances of the characters with an ease that comes from being so very good at what you do.
This seems to be the first part of a two-part story, and why the goal posts have been moved so dramatically from issue one is a mystery, but I have no doubt that Brubaker knows exactly what he is doing here, and things will unfold in their own time.
If you have any interest in comic book lore, I suggest you grab this issue, and probably Issue #3 too, to catch a glimpse of comic book land that you may not have been aware existed. Sure this is a story made to entertain, but as someone who has been in love with comics for decades, it’s always a temptation to look behind the curtain, and Criminal #2 certainly delivers on that.