Marvel Comics
The Dead And The Dying New Criminal Trade
By Henry Chamberlain
August 26, 2008 - 12:25

Marvel Comics
Writer(s): Ed Brubaker
Penciller(s): Sean Phillips
Inker(s): Sean Phillips
Colourist(s): Val Staples
Letterer(s): Sean Phillips
Cover Artist(s): Sean Phillips
$11.99 US

The Dead and the Dying is the latest collected trade paperback of the Ed Brubaker /Sean Phillips pulp fantasy series, Criminal, winner of 2007's Eisner Awards for Best Writer and Best New Series. It collects the first three issues of the second volume. The story revolves around the character of Danica Briggs and follows her from rebellious teen to her downward spiral once she gets involved with the mob. For my money, Danica never truly comes to life but maybe that's the whole point. As Jake Brown, another major character, points out, she'd lost her zest for life long ago.

Within the gritty world of Criminal, everyone keeps making the wrong choices. Danica is no different but, in her case, she is, more than any other character, misery personified. It is 1972 and, as this noir tale would have it, two young men, one black, Jake Brown, and one white, Sebastian Hyde, are about to follow in each father's career in crime. They both also happen to be in love with Danica, a troubled young black woman.

Love Triangle: Jake, Danica and Sebastian.

How Jake and Sebastian come to be close friends is built up as the stuff of myth. Back in the '50s, Jake's father, a hit man, spared the life of Sebastian's father. The two started up their own crime syndicate with Clevon getting to live in Walter's mansion and appear to take a backseat within the organization while actually being a close associate. Both men raise their own families in the Hyde mansion and so you have Jake and Sebastian, the princes of crime. Enter Danica to breakup the friendship.

While Jake and Sebastian consider their options, Danica's fate is dependent on what these two come up with. Danica never has a chance to express much of a personality or any vision for her life. All we really know is that she was a spirited youth and later in life,  pimps power from sex. Essentially, Danica is cast as the lost soul. Somewhere in the story telling, she seems to take on a life of her own which is less a life as it is more about being, as the title states, one of the dead and the dying.

Maybe to have given Danica anything more than she seemed to deserve would have been cheating. As Ed Brubaker explains about his characters and the human condition, for that matter, in a Comics Journal interview: "There's the person that they think they are, and the person that they really are." It is this dichotomy that Brubaker and Phillips exploit. Sean Phillips' art gives each character their due. They have earned every ugly depiction of enraged eyes and bared teeth. This is serious noir. You reap what you sow. Brubaker and Phillips wouldn't have it any other way.


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