A great story and a meta-take on the shoddy treatment meted out to the great comic book artists and writers of yore, Criminal #3 will captivate from first page to last. If you’re not salivating at the prospect of the next issue after reading this beauty, there’s no pleasing you.
Jacob Kurtz is brought back to mind his old boss and legendary comic artist Hal Crane in the hours before Crane receives an award. Instead, Kurtz finds himself drawn back into his old criminal ways…your Major Spoilers review of Criminal #3 awaits!
Writers: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colorist: Jacob Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics, Inc.
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: March 20th, 2019
Previously in Criminal: Hal Crane is a comic’s legend, and a monster to boot. But he’s our monster. Convinced his daughter has stolen his original art and sold it on the black market, Crane asks his old background artist to help him steal them back. Which is where unreformable criminal Ricky Lawless enters the picture…
Criminal #3 grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let up. Picking up from the previous issue, it sees Jacob Kurtz fall back in with his old boss, embittered comic artist and legend Hal Crane. Starting out making sure Crane turns up to his own award’s ceremony at a local convention, Kurtz finds himself dragged into a quest to steal back pieces of original art Crane’s daughter stole from him and sold on the black market. To do this, Kurtz calls in his old criminal buddy, Ricky Lawless, a character who has appeared in previous books by Brubaker and Phillips.
Criminal #3 is so much more than just a heist story. Hal Crane is an amalgam of all those famous comic creator names you know who were stiffed by their publishers and frequently their peers. Embittered by what the industry has done to him, he still can’t step away from it, still can’t resist its siren call. Hard drinking and hard smoking, Crane loves and loathes comics in equal measure, and embittered man still in love with the field that made and broke him.
Jacob Kurtz, our narrator, allowed himself to be driven out of the industry his treatment by Crane. A man bereft, he finds himself sucked back into the world, his love and loathing of it dripping on each page as his acerbic insights bite deep into the pages of the issue. Despite his resistance to Crane, and the wish to keep the past where it belongs, his love for the form describes an arc many of us have experienced for the things we have loved, and rejected, and embraced again. And the revelation at the end about his true role in proceedings is breath-taking.
Sean Phillips art is a wonder. There’s nothing flashy about his art, though it is accomplished work. Everyone has a rumpled, lived in look graven into their skin. Crane is rarely without a drink or cigarette in his hand, smoke wreathing his head, as his thoughts turn inward. Phillips panel layout is instructive – usually, a page has a single frame top and bottom, with 2-3 panels in the middle forcing the story forward in brief staccato rushes. The flashbacks are washed out, as befits an era seeping away into memory, whereas the indoor bar scenes are dipped in red, the neon glare bleeding into the characters.
Criminal #3 marries a slice of history of the genre, with a neatly wrapped up criminal caper. Getting the balance right is key here. Lean too far to one side and the story is mired in history. Lean the other and it loses substance as it relates yet another crime story. But by interlacing the plot strands, Brubaker and Phillips create a story that builds on itself, making it a piercing character study and a piece of compelling fiction. There are many comics in the market today that are only capable of one but not both, betraying the writer’s inability (or choice) to focus on more than one aspect of the storytelling process. With Criminal #3, the writers display their skill and talent and I for one can’t wait for more.
BOTTOM LINE: BUY BUY BUY
With a bonus review of The Color of Money, Criminal #3 is the complete package of great storytelling and great art. Despite the cynicism and exploitation contained within its pages, Criminal #3 is a paean to the golden era of comics, whenever that might have been. The last page of this issue is a gut punch, making you flick back to the beginning and starting over again, with this new revelation before your eyes And on the flip side, we see that Hal Crane is a monster, but he’s our monster, with our flaws, our dashed dreams and yet still retaining the urge to greatness that keeps us all from falling into the abyss. Masterful.