Teeg Lawless doesn’t hesitate when it comes to cracking open heads and bank safes. But when the siren call of a blonde bombshell sings out to him, can he escape the lure of love? Find out in our Major Spoilers review!
Writers: Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colors: Jacob Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: July 11th, 2019
Previously in Criminal: When a bent out of shape private dick falls for runaway mistress Jane, it begins a cascading series of events that sees Teeg Lawless clock him over the head with a wrench. Now, the shoe is on the other foot as we see the story from Teeg’s vantage point. The Cruel Summer has only just begun…
A MIRROR DARKLY
Criminal #6 takes the events of the previous issue and reverses them. We rewind a little too before Jane met with the private detective, and see how she hooks up with Teeg Lawless, in the aftermath of a sweet robbery he and his buddy Chic commit. Jane the grifter is the common element in both books – a woman with a chunk of ice for a heart, who will do anything, say anything, to stay one-step ahead of the law, and the broken bodies she leaves behind.
Once again Brubaker and Phillips bring their A game to Criminal #6. The key to keep their storytelling fresh is to concentrate on the flawed characters that populate their work. Sure, the crimes are exciting, but of themselves, they aren’t enough to sustain a series. And writing perfect characters without any shades of gray would be off-putting, a story for Sunday school, and not a tale that reflects all the absurdities and darkness of life.
So we get Teeg Lawless making his appearance, a criminal knocking on the door of fifty who only knows two things – steal what you can, and do it as frequently as possible. But even a broken figure as Teeg Lawless, who ditches his son for a job, is capable of love. The only problem is that arrow from Cupid comes courtesy of Jane, who has left a trail of broken hearts, broken heads and cleared out bank accounts in her wake.
BE STILL MY BEATING HEART
The thing is, Teeg should know better. The narrator spells it out for him – ‘Sure, he’d been with plenty of women…but none of them had ever made him feel sick to his stomach.’ Brubaker and Phillips shiv the guy with a double edged blade and keep on twisting it right through Criminal #6. Too mix my metaphors, Teeg can’t help himself but stick his head in the noose and wait for the floor to drop away from beneath him.
And even though you know, somewhere along the line of the Cruel Summer arc, that Teeg is going to cop it in the neck, the writing and characterization is so compelling you’re left hoping at the end of the issue, that despite Teeg not knowing anything other than a life of crime, despite all the horrendous things he’s done, you, the reader, hope against hope that somehow, anyhow, he makes it out alive.
We all know the score, don’t we?
BLEEDING ONTO THE PAGE
Brief mention must go to the awesome work of Sean and Jacob Phillips. Sean Phillips once again brings all the characters to life. There’s a brooding menace to his artwork that tells the reader that violence and pain are only a panel or two away. It wouldn’t be as impactful without the coloring of Jacob Phillips. Panel after panel depict a world swimming in shadows, of characters half lit by the moonlight, of neon-drenched nightclubs, of lake houses at twilight and of sudden, shocking swathes of red as men are gunned down. Panel composition and layout is beautifully handled, never more so than when Teeg and Jane meet properly, staring down the barrel of handguns pointed at each other. Masterful!
BOTTOM LINE: COMPELLING
Great stories are never about events, they’re about characters. Criminal #6 brings that in spades. Jane is cruelly compelling, a monster as badly damaged as Teeg Lawless. But it is in their depiction of Teeg falling for a woman, that Brubaker and Phillips really twist the knife. After a lifetime of crime, of cynicism and violence, to see Teeg fall for someone who is just as damaged and dangerous as himself, is the greatest irony of all.
Even amongst the weeds, a rose may flower. And so it is with the love that grows in Teeg Lawless for Jane. But even a rose may harbor a bee, and the sting in the tale in Criminal #6 is that Teeg is better to have lost, and never loved. There’s a storm coming to a summer that will soon enough be crueler than any experienced before.