Criminal, like much of Brubaker’s work, is grim, but the highlights involve touches of emotional resonance and tragedy. While it has a lot going for it, issue #4 comes across like a sliver of an overhanging legacy.
In #4, we follow a coked-up Ricky Lawless speeding through the city (get it?) meeting with old frienemies to get in and out of trouble. Perhaps if you’ve read all of the previous Criminal material you’ll be satisfied with the references to other characters and events. Brubaker says as much in the letters page, which comes across as self-mythologizing. But if you’re looking for the drowsy beauty of the previous issues (particularly #2-3) you’ll be disappointed with this issue.
Brubaker relishes getting inside Ricky’s delirious mental state and showing, in detail, the pains of coke addiction to a Paul Thomas Anderson level. Even Ricky pacing in a warehouse for 2+ pages is an exhausting read. It’s worth noting a hyper-focus on particular moments runs through this issue and delivers some of the best moments, like Leo Patterson’s simmering anger across three silent panels while driving.
Sean and Jacob Phillips have been praised far and wide as a new power couple (which sounds weird because they’re related, but you know what I mean) and this issue doesn’t disappoint. By taking a more impressionistic style to colors, Jacob’s work wraps around to something more akin to reality. Transitions have great contrast, like when Ricky (at night) is immersed in blue, purple, and brown–only to be rudely awakened by washed-out yellows in the morning. Sean’s extensive use of photo-reference is exceptionally obvious here, with Ricky constantly fussing over his unruly hair and taking drags like he’s an asthmatic with an inhaler.
The peripheral characters have enough personality to hold their own, although they’re caught in the meandering, fractured pace. Overall, this issue doesn’t have the resonance, tragedy, or thrills other Criminal issues have.