When former comic book illustrator Jacob receives a call from an old flame at an upcoming comic convention to act as minder for his old boss and comic legend Hal Crane, he has misgivings. Jacob agrees reluctantly, and his caution is rewarded with a series of events that remind him why Crane was such a hard ass to begin with. Then, Jacob is met with an offer we know he should refuse, but won’t…
Story by: Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Art: Sean Phillips
Colors: Jacob Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics, Inc.
Release Date: February 13th, 2019
Previously in Criminal: Forget everything that came in the issue before because Brubaker and Phillips dip back into fictional comic’s world featured in the books Bad Night and Wrong Time, Wrong Place. A mixture of real-world characters and their fictional counterparts, with all their foibles and strengths, Criminal #2 takes us on a whiskey-soaked journey through the shambles of a life celebrated artist Hal Crane made of his life and career.
Criminal #2 ignores the events (for now) of issue one, this time focusing on one-time comic illustrator Jacob, who is asked to act as minder for cantankerous, but staggeringly talented comic legend Hal Crane during a comic’s convention. Crane, a drunk and a cynic, is having none of the schedules that Jacob is intent on keeping him on, and instead, the duo spend most of their time together doing what Crane wants, which generally mean making money on the sly and annoying the hell out of everyone else. In quick succession, we meet a team of art animation cell fakers, drink way too much scotch, watch Crane beat up on another former assistant and have a night time meeting with his estranged daughter. And then Crane makes Jacob and offer he can’t refuse.
BOOK OF THE YEAR?
Look, I’m going to call it really early and say that Criminal #2 is my contender for the best single issue of the year. Everything about it – the plotting, pacing, writing, characterization, and artwork are all sublime. The entire issue draws you in from the very beginning, which, given the issue revolves around analogs of the comic book industry, is no surprise to anyone who reads the output of said industry. In his note at the end of the issue, Brubaker points out that the story isn’t based on any one person or event from the real world. What it is, as he says, is an examination of the relationship between a broken, embittered man, and his one-time assistant who used to idolize him before he realized his boss had feet of clay.
And what a relationship. Crane is a real monster – he drinks too much, goes through assistants like toilet paper and has a reputation of stealing artwork from the desks of fellow illustrators and selling them on the market for cash. He was involved in a car crash that claimed another legend of the industry, an event that Jacob notes made him an embittered man angry at the world around him. Jacob, too, though he would deny it, is bitter about how his life has turned out. His idol told him he would never make it, so he left the one job he loved. He wants nothing to do with Crane, but the lure of seeing how his old boss turned out is too much for his common sense to overcome.
Criminal #2 is perfectly paced. After the introduction, which gives us an insight into Jacob and Crane, we move to the convention. There’s plenty of fun to be had their, with an expertly placed word balloon obscuring the face of a man sloppily dressed as Wonder Woman. There’s time for a bit of #metoo action before the plot kicks in and Jacob gains a glimpse of what Crane’s life has become.
DRAWING A LINE
The artwork by Sean Phillips, with Jacob Phillips on colors, is a delight. Characters are well defined, with Crane’s lived in face speaking volumes about his life, and Jacob, who clearly wants to remain in the background, has a disturbing bland face that speaks to hidden depths. Phillips has a lot of fun with the convention scenes, populating it with cosplaying characters from across many pop culture icons. As Criminal #2 progresses, and day shades into the night and Crane’s encounters grow darker, so does the artwork, with shadows being used to compelling effect.
BOTTOM LINE – BUY IT, LIKE YESTERDAY
Criminal #2, after the previous issue, is not the book everyone will be expecting, but it is the book you should be buying and reading and extolling the virtues of to all your friends, both near and far. It has a compelling storyline that drags you in from the opening page and while it isn’t replete with the sort of action you would expect from a crime series, that doesn’t matter. The strength of this issue is in the characterization, of people being a slave to their own impulses against their better judgment and of their inability to get out of their own way. Criminal #2 is a must buy, and is an issue that builds on the strengths of the creators to amazing effect.
A glorious nod to the golden age of comics, with all its frailties and triumphs, brought to life by the powerhouse team of Brubaker and Phillips.