‘Criminal #3:’ Advance Comic Book Review

Old grudges and new revelations push washed-up artist Hal Crane over the edge in the heated conclusion to the two-part Bad Weekend storyline. In Criminal #3, noir masters Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips complete their journey through the dark underbelly of the comic book creators community.

Set in the late nineties, Bad Weekend takes place at a familiar-looking southern California comic con. Jacob, a former comic artist, receives an unexpected request to assist his irascible old boss Hal Crane during the convention festivities. Hal is a famously talented artist but an even more infamously drunken asshole. Jacob is reluctant at first, but when he learns that Hal asked for him specifically, he can't refuse his old idol.

Jacob gets pulled into Hal’s bitter quest to recover some of his old artwork by any means necessary. Issue three begins with Jacob enlisting the help of his friend, and recurring character from the Criminal series, Ricky Lawless. The three men break into the home of Hal's former colleague looking for original drawings that Hal believes were stolen. Things look bad when Hal doesn't find the artwork in the man's collection, but the weekend is far from over.

I didn't understand Jacob's motivations after reading Criminal #2. In my review, I questioned why Jacob would continue helping Hal with his seemingly endless, destructive crusade through the con. My concerns were addressed in the first panels of Criminal #3. Jacob's character is more thoroughly explored, and his relationship with Hal is fully illuminated. Concurrently, Hal's relationship with his own idol and former employer is detailed in flashback. So, despite the series title, the actual crimes take a back seat in this story. The prevailing theme of Bad Weekend is how mentors and students disappoint each other.

Mentors impart wisdom onto their students. In that way, Hal is a good mentor, but not a positive one. Hal has become a cautionary tale, warning Jacob about the pitfalls of resentment and lingering consequences of betrayal. Conversely, the story delves into the responsibility of the student to the mentor. Good or bad, Jacob learned things during his apprenticeship with Hal and gained from the experience. Without spoiling too much, that ends up being the reason why Jacob sticks around.

Brubaker expertly balances a tense narrative with a deep and sobering character study. The end result is extremely satisfying. The issue relies heavily on Jacob's narration, but his introspective reflections flow seamlessly with Brubaker's signature sharp dialogue. One scene that stood out to me was an angel-versus-devil conversation with Jacob and Ricky sitting on either side of Hal at a bar. They talk about the awards ceremony Hal is scheduled to attend. Jacob sees it as a chance for Hal to be applauded by his peers and possibly even redeemed, while Ricky sees an opportunity for the old man to give everyone he hates the big middle finger.

Phillips' illustrations are once again in perfect harmony with Brubaker's words. So much of the story is told with the characters' postures and facial expressions. Hal's desperation and self-loathing are beautifully conveyed just by the way Phillips draws him clutching a cigarette or gesturing with a whiskey glass. Throughout the issue, colorist Jacob Phillips wonderfully balances bold colors in the present day with muted flashbacks. In the final pages, the intense colors complement the ominous shadows as the story comes to a close.

Bad Weekend is a great standalone story and enjoyable without knowledge of the larger world of Criminal, but the inclusion of Ricky Lawless, who is having his own mentor-related conflict in the story started in Criminal #1, hopefully intrigues and entices devoted fans of the series. This storyline is over, but I'd personally be excited to see these characters reappear in future issues.


Creative Team: Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (artist), Jacob Phillips (colors)
Publisher: Image Comics
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