If you are looking for a great comic book experience but superheroes don’t get your cape blowing and you want something a bit more grounded, then look no further than Criminal. Written by Ed Brubaker with art by Sean Phillips, Criminal has consistently been one of the best comic books published. With Volume 3 just now hitting store-shelves there is no better time to check out this stellar title.
Brubaker and Phillips were not exactly no names in the industry when they started Criminal. They worked together on the book Sleeper, and Brubaker’s day job is writing the likes of Captain America, Daredevil and the X-Men. All the while Phillips became somewhat of a superstar with his work on Marvel Zombies. Still, Criminal was something of a risk. After all, crime comics had not been a big deal for decades, and who could say if they would ever make a comeback?
Published through Marvel Comics’ Icon imprint in October 2006, Criminal became a critical sensation almost immediately, eventually winning the Eisner (the comic book equivalent to the Oscar) for best new series.
With its roots firmly planted in the crime noir tales of the past, Criminal still manages to feel distinctly fresh. Unlike other comic books currently fighting for space on the shelf, Criminal is not trying to reinvent the wheel. What it is, first and foremost, is a crime saga — and a damn good one at that.
The stories are classic crime fiction tales of revenge, betrayal, lust and greed, yet they still feel modern and new. Throw in expert pacing, masterful dialogue, beautifully dark artwork, and you have one of the best comic books to come around in years.
It also happens to be totally and completely accessible to people who do not read comic books. This is what makes Criminal so important to the industry. Every volume stands on its own as a complete story. You can hand your dad Volume 2 (assuming your dad is cool with cussing, vicious beatings nudity, and the occasional execution), and he can enjoy it.
There is no learning curve, no new rules to learn. It is a comic book through and through, but a comic book that can be read by anyone, as long as they can handle the mature subject matter.
The comic book world needs more books like Criminal — more books that don’t try to reshape the medium but instead showcase it in its classic form and at its very best. Do yourself a favor and give Criminal a try, even if you have never read a graphic novel in your life. You will not be disappointed.