If you look at the entire bibliography from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips published under Image, from Fatale to Kill or Be Killed, they are stories within the crime fiction genre about ordinary people who find themselves stepping into the wrong side of the law and, in the process, losing their soul. Although the two creators do manage to find different angles toward the same premise, it depends on the execution if it rises or falls, whether it’s The Fade Out or their latest graphic novel, My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies.
Conceived as a novella tie-in to Brubaker and Phillips’ ongoing creator-owned title Criminal, two junkies find love during their time at an upscale rehab clinic. As someone who is self-aware of being a bad influence, Ellie encourages Skip to ignore his father’s demands and break free from their clinical prison. However, as their romance blossoms under the worst circumstances, neither one of them are what they appear to be.
As funny as that title might be, it not only sums up what’s wrong with its central character, but the book in general. For most of the story, Ellie is always about having romantic ideas about drug addicts, in particular the many musicians she name drops, leading to this shallow assumption that great art can come from substance abuse. Despite her self-awareness, Ellie is rather unlikable in her motives and although it is explained at the conclusion, a lot of her backstory is told through a common problem in Brubaker’s work: the over-extensive internal monologue.
With this problematic protagonist at the center, you have this lone voice that doesn’t have much to say about the world around these flawed people. Even the book’s opening, with a small meeting in rehab where the addicts tell their perspectives of each other’s stories, never goes beyond them being a joke, let alone showcasing the actual tragedy out of their addictions. For a piece of crime fiction, there is rarely any tension towards the dangers the two lovers go up against.
Though it may not be as crime-orientated as we’d expect from this collaboration, Sean Phillips’ art remains impressive despite the lack of action, with his blend of facially expressive characters and murky surroundings. With the absence of Elizabeth Breitweiser, Jacob Phillips steps in as the colorist and he uses bright colors that are a nice visual contrast to Phillips’ gritty illustrations.
Considering the great work that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have produced before, it’s a shame that their latest collaboration is a huge disappointment that despite its premise, doesn’t have anything to say about drug addiction.