Criminal, Vol. 2: Lawless

Greg Oleksiuk

Being bad has never been so good.

Criminal, Vol. 2: Lawless

Publisher: Icon
ISBN: 0785128166
Contributors: Artist: Sean Phillips
Price: $14.99
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Length: 128
US publication date: 2007-12-20
Writer website

The first story-arc of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s Criminal was a breath of fresh, noir air. Often, the opening arc of a comic is its best, or at the very least, better than the second. But as good as that opening arc was, the second arc, titled Lawless, is actually better and only solidifies Criminal as one of, if not the, best comics out there, period. Brubaker and Phillips create an incredible character in Tracy Lawless -- one who doesn’t seem to give a damn about anything and truly is bona-fide badass.

The tone of this arc is even darker than the opening arc. As well, aside from a brief appearance from the lead of “Coward” that shows Brubaker is creating a world that is linked together, this is pretty much a self-contained story. It involves the return of Tracy Lawless to America after hearing his brother has been killed. Tracy, a Vietnam vet, goes after the crew that his brother hung with -- as word is they were the ones that killed him -- and decides to take out his revenge slowly and methodically. What makes this such a wonderful story-arc is that Brubaker doesn't pull any punches, and keeps things gritty and dark, while Philips’s art only mirrors that and adds to the noir feel of the book.

Brubaker’s penchant for gritty narration and smart dialogue gives the feeling that every word counts in this book. Every line and every panel matters, and leads up to a conclusion that readers may or may not agree with, but can't fail to see how the character arrived at that point. Too often stories are injected with surprise endings just to throw a curve at the audience, and winds up feeling forced or unnatural. While the ending may certainly surprise some, it still feels in character with Tracy’s personality and the tone of the story. In fact, it makes the story even more messed-up than it already was.

Phillips’s artwork only adds to Criminal's already pulpy feel. There are very few artists who capture the noir-ish aspect of crime comics as well as Phillips. His artwork is stunning without being flashy or over-the-top. His panels are detailed enough to let you know what is going on, but not overwhelming. In short, he’s the perfect artist for Brubaker’s terse scripts. The only negative thing is that the trade paperback collection doesn't contain Philips’ wrap-around covers from the original issues. While unfortunate, it may just be another reason, along with the back-up articles, to be buying this title in its monthly format.

Some of the best comic adaptations to the silver screen lately have been from crime comics. Movie adaptations like Sin City, Road to Perdition, and A History of Violence have shown just how deep and complex comics can be. They have also been adapted by some of the best that the movie genre has to offer. While Criminal has only published almost a dozen issues so far, this second story-arc is something that would also translate well onto the big screen. Not just because of the excellent story, but the character of Tracy Lawless himself is an interesting one. This would certainly not be a “happy-go-lucky” Hollywood movie, but it would be a great addition to the already great list of crime comic book movies.

Criminal is a comic that any fan of the medium should be reading. With its second story-arc, Lawless, it has cemented itself as one of the best comics of all time, and is at the top of the list of titles presently published. Its interesting, well-defined characters, dark and gritty story, and beautiful and complementary artwork show us why this title won best new series at the Eisner Awards last year. This is the best storyline yet, and gives hope that this series is just going to get better as the creative team delves more and more into the dark, seedy world that is Ciminal. Buy this book, as to not do so is a crime.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.