Comics

Coward

Alex Muller

Let’s face it folks, civilization is addicted to crime.


Criminal

Publisher: Icon
Subtitle: Coward
Contributors: Artist: Sean Phillips
Price: $14.99
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Length: 128
Formats: Trade Paperback
ISBN: 0-7851-2439-X
First date: 2006-10
US publication date: 2007-07-23
Last date: 2007-07
Writer website
cat_label_url
Amazon

Let's face it folks, civilization is addicted to crime.

We might vehemently deny that, but the Ocean's trilogy made more than $1.1 billion worldwide, Law and Order still has about a hundred spin-offs (give or take a few) and millions of people around the world gather at the office water coolers every day to discuss the most recent cop shooting published in their morning newspaper.

Believe it or not, crime sells. Just ask Ed Brubaker, the Eisner-award winning author of Coward, the first story arc of his new crime series, Criminal. Brubaker, a master of the crime-noir genre, brings us another title in the vein of his Sleeper series, sans the super powers.

In this Sin City-esque, Cheers-type universe, "where everybody knows your name" and most of the central characters are second-generation criminals who frequent the same watering hole, Brubaker capitalizes on the notion that we're fascinated with "the other side of the law."

But Brubaker doesn't fool around in this first story arc by allowing the reader to vicariously live out their wildest fantasies through some action-filled caper, or even pacify us by ensuring that the good guys always win. Instead he poses a poignant and politically relative question: What, exactly, is a coward?

It turns out our protagonist, Leo, is an incredibly talented pickpocket and a genius when it comes to planning a big heist, but he's got this minor character flaw.

"Leo's a coward," one character says. "He doesn't just walk away from trouble, he runs."

Our protagonist prescribes to the old saying, "He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day." Is that necessarily cowardly? In his defense, Leo is the most intelligent character in this story. He's always got an escape plan, and he only ever checks out after one of his fellow criminals screws up and compromises their situation.

While reading Coward you can't help but draw a connection between the subject matter -- Leo's penchant for turning tail -- and the United States' involvement in Iraq. Brubaker even directly addresses the changing political environment in the U.S.: "Gotta love the War on Terror, hunh?" asks one character after he calls in a bomb threat on City Hall, ensuring every cop in the city will be distracted during the heist.

I know, I know: Politics and comics? Hey, it worked for Marvel's Civil War series. While not as epic as Marvel's endeavor, Coward contains some more-subtle references to the Iraq War fight-or-flee debate that we're experiencing here in the States.

With liberals clamoring daily for troop withdrawals, and conservatives pushing the repeat button on their "stay-the-course" jukeboxes, it's difficult not to see some similarities between our protagonist and the U.S., as well as the underlying implications of this relationship.

Leo's not so much a coward as he is a survivor. Before any heist he meticulously plans out an escape route in case things go to hell. Does that mean he goes into every score half-heartedly, always looking for a way out? No. Does it mean that he deserts his friends at the drop of a hat? No. It simply means that he enjoys life outside a jail cell.

So, along these lines, if the U.S. was as smart as Leo, we would have given ourselves a way out before we declared war. Leo knows the gravity -- the importance -- of a full-proof plan. In his own words, "Dying is a lot harder than killing."

But even Leo realizes there comes a time when you've got nowhere left to run. Sometimes survival means something different. "If life is only about survival, then what is the ultimate cost?" asks Tom Fontana (OZ, Homicide: Life on the Streets) in the book's introduction. "Does what it take to survive change you -- to the point where you are no longer who you are?"

Following this mantra, the U.S. has a duty to finish what they started, rather than sacrifice every ideal that made us a world power in the first place.

Brubaker never officially endorses either idea, and the ending is ambiguous enough to allow the reader to make up his or her own mind on the subject. But the depth that he displays with this first story arc shows a lot of promise for the rest of the Criminal series. There's real, socially conscious substance here -- something that's lacking with shows like CSI or movies like Along Came a Spider. Will every tale be laced with political ideology? Hopefully not, but Coward at least shows that Brubaker can pen more than your typical caper or good-guy-wins-again crime tale.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?

Music

Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.

Music

Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.

Music

Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.

Music

Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.

Film

Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.

Books

Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.

Music

Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.

Film

Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Music

Inventions' 'Continuous Portrait' Blurs the Grandiose and the Intimate

Explosions in the Sky and Eluvium side project, Inventions are best when they are navigating the distinction between modes in real-time on Continuous Portrait.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.