Page 45 Review by Stephen
From the creators of FATALE and THE FADE OUT, these are the best crime comics in the business, right up there with the recently revived STRAY BULLETS.
CRIMINAL is a series of completely self-contained stories you can read in any order you like, and for me this is its finest outing yet.
Summoned home by his father's sudden illness then death, Riley Richards has briefly escaped the city of his sins which have begun to cost him dearly, and travelled back to the town of his youth.
It was a sunlit life immersed in the relatively innocent pleasures of crime comics bought by his Dad and meeting down the diner where his best friend, Freakout. With the monumental munchies of being stoned, they would regularly break records for scoffing ice cream.
Then there was sweet Lizzie Gordon, the girl who lived literally next door; the girl whom everyone assumed he would marry. If only he had. But his life changed course dramatically on the arrival of rich bitch Felicity Doolittle, bringing with her the alluring, honey-pot cocktail of novelty, sophistication, self-confidence and sexual availability. They argued, they split, they got back together, but eventually Riley made a fatal mistake: he married her.
Now he's a man who witnesses the world around him at a remove, as if it's not his own life at all. He's become so detached that he doesn't know how to feel at his father's funeral, he just calculates what's expected of him. He's become so resigned that when he caught his wife shagging Teddy, the man he loathes most, he concluded that it simply made sense. He's almost immune to his father-in-law's long-voiced contempt, and he had all but ignored the slurred cries for help Freakout would leave on his answer phone before finally seeking help and sobering up for good. But returning home now - seeing Lizzie as kind and beautiful as ever and Freakout still funny when dry - has reminded Riley of how promising it once looked before the empty marriage and the crushing gambling debts in the city which he's grown to hate. He had been a key crossroads in his life and, in marrying Felicity, taken the worst turn possible.
But gradually it occurs to Riley that there may well be a way to reverse all his misfortunes in one fell swoop.
He's going to kill his wife.
Nothing Brubaker drops in early on is accidental; everything is reprised. Riley's machinations are fiendishly clever. There is nothing and no one he won't use to achieve his goal, but that's all it is to him: an objective. You'll be shaking your head at the calculated lows he will sink to and yet - an incredible testament to the seductive strength of creative team here - you'll still find yourself rooting for the rat, fearful in case he fucks up.
For any successful first-person narrative it's crucial that reader wants to spend time in protagonist's self-absorbed head, and that's where Brubaker excels. That the intricate plot mechanics are so devious and the delivery so adroit is what makes each read so enormously satisfying. What makes them so attractive is the art of Sean Phillips, by far the finest draughtsman in this most twilight of genres. His faces stay cast and masked in a permanent semi-shadow - I never trust anyone drawn by Sean Phillips - and some of them are positively threatening.
Allowed for once to play in the suburban sunlight as well as the metropolitan grime, Phillips appears to have had great fun not only in capturing a much younger, less tainted crowd, but also in drawing the flashback sequences: snapshots of memory rendered here in Archie-Comics innocence, even when the style beautifully belies the content under Felicity's prom-night gown.
All the original periodical's landscape covers are reproduced within and now all six volumes of CRIMINAL have iconic new covers. Together they look like the most lambent but lethal stained glass window or an elaborate set of traffic lights sending mixed signals to stop, get set and go.
Or, in this case, swim like crazy or sink forever.