Fair warning that this month’s installment of Criminal does not continue the Teeg Lawless story from January’s critically acclaimed first issue. But don’t be deterred, because powerhouse creators Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips deliver a new story in Criminal #2 that does not disappoint.
Criminal #2: Bad Weekend takes place in the late nineties against a backdrop that’s likely familiar to most readers, a comic book convention. Jacob, a former comic artist, is unexpectedly asked to keep an eye on his old boss Hal Crane during the weekend of Comic Fest. Hal is not just a legendary artist, but a legendary asshole, with a long history of fighting with editors and stealing art from colleagues. Jacob’s working relationship with Hal didn’t end well, but when he learns that Hal asked for his help specifically, he can’t refuse his old idol.
This first part of Bad Weekend is a fascinating slow simmer. Hal cuts a warpath through the convention, tracking down art that was stolen from him, while Jacob’s narration fills us in on Hal’s sordid past. The story is littered with his broken relationships. Everywhere Hal goes, he encounters the fallout of not just his tantrums and betrayals but his own self sabotages. And, an intriguing revelation on the final page teases the conclusion of the story, next month’s Criminal #3, when we learn exactly why Hal wanted to be reunited with Jacob in the first place.
Brubaker and Phillips are masters of the modern, hard-boiled crime story, and as a fan of their recently wrapped Kill or Be Killed, I’m excited by the potential of Criminal. The stated intention behind relaunching Criminal was to reinvigorate the single-issue and limited-issue storytelling format in a market dominated by serials. Upcoming narratives in Criminal will be standalone one shots, two parters, or larger stories that span between seemingly unconnected issues. The creators want to keep us on our toes.
Brubaker and Phillips have been collaborating for nearly two decades, and their artistic symbiosis is extremely evident. Brubaker populates the world with complex characters, and I got a sense for all of them very quickly. I could tell what kind of person Hal was from his first appearance on the page. Everyone’s dialogue has Brubaker’s hallmark edge, but Phillips elevates them with his beautifully illustrated facial expressions and reactions. He brought a lot of depth to Hal by the way he gestured with his cigarettes. I was also captivated by Jacob Phillip’s painterly style of coloring. The layers of visible brush strokes added to the gritty feel, and the hues elegantly transition from day to night as the story gets tonally darker.
Bad Weekend is an interesting character study and examination of a mentor/student relationship gone sour, but I’m hoping the concluding chapter gives more insight into Jacob. His narration gives us a glimpse into his motivations, especially when he says things like, “True fans will always go down with the ship. It’s one of their best and worst qualities.” But this issue left me wondering why, after all the horrible things Hal has done, does Jacob continue helping him? A misplaced sense of loyalty brought him there, but what exactly is keeping him there? I’m optimistic that this will become clear in the next issue.
Dropping a dark and gritty crime story into the middle of a comic book convention seemed (Please forgive the pun.) unconventional, but I’ll admit it was one of the things that hooked me into the story, because the familiar setting serves to remind us that even the bright and shiny things in our lives can have a sinister side.
Creative Team: Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (artist), Jacob Phillips (colors)
Publisher: Image Comics
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