Criminal: The Sinners #5
By Josh Dean
March 11, 2010 - 17:24
Publisher(s): Marvel Comics
Writer(s): Ed Brubaker
Penciller(s): Sean Phillips
Colourist(s): Val Staples
Cover Artist(s): Sean Phillips
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have been cranking out great stories since their days on Sleeper. The previous run of Criminal and Incognito are excellent examples of noir thrillers (the latter with a super-hero twist) that play into genre conventions and cliches without drowning in them. As well-done as all their work together has been, this one issue is the first time a story has not been completely satisfying.
Leading up to this issue, Tracy Lawless (on the run from the Army he deserted) has found himself in the employ of a ruthless crime lord named Mr. Hyde. Lawless has been sleeping with Hyde’s wife, keeping Hyde’s daughter safe and investigating a rash of murders in the underworld. Over the first four issues, tension has been ratcheted up by expert degrees. A warrant officer is on the hunt for our protagonist, a gang from Chinatown is looking for a gang war with Hyde and an unexpected group has taken it upon themselves to rid the city of criminals in a most violent manner. Stir all these elements together and you have the recipe for an explosive final issue.
Marv? Nope, Lawless.
Unfortunately, this conclusion feels weightless. After some of the truly horrific outcomes of Brubaker’s other arcs, this one has a rushed quality that detracts from the impact. There is a death on the first page that is exactly as sad and shocking as one would expect but, after that, the story gets away from Brubaker as the slow burn is cranked up to high heat. In order to hit all the points he needs to, Brubaker doesn’t give the actions room to breathe. Lawless, in particular, goes through some rough stuff but it all feels inconsequential by the end.
Not to say there are not masterful moments here. Even a weak Criminal story is better than 90% of other comics. In particular, there is a scene between Lawless and Hyde’s daughter that hits just the right tone of frustration and sadness. The resolution of Lawless and Hyde’s relationship, while clever, doesn’t make much sense under close scrutiny.
Phillips, of course, delivers big time. He can portray clear action inside cramped panels drenched in darkness, which is no small feat. The characters all come off as battered and sweaty in a way even Sin City never completely pulled off. Unlike previous arcs, there has been no confusion in facial features or who certain characters are supposed to be. It is hard to imagine any one else drawing this series besides maybe Michael Lark. Brubaker knows how to write to his artists’ strengths, no doubt.
Much more can’t be said without giving away major plot points but, notably, this series reads like it was cut one issue short for some reason. The set up to the Sinners was incredible; one regrets that the payoff was not given a bit more space.
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