Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are an incredibly consistent creative team, having worked with each other for decades and perfected their collaborative efforts over that period of time. Criminal is the culmination of these years they have spent honing their craft, and this this issue shows it off once more. With absolutely incredible work from Brubaker, Phillips, and colorist Jacob Phillips, this new arc of Criminal continues the incredible quality that the book is famed for, without missing a single beat.
Having the hunter become the hunted is a trope that’s used a lot in stories, and while it’s not stale it definitely becomes predictable. Brubaker and Phillips, however, don’t do predictable. The issue starts off with the hunter, Private Investigator Dan Farraday, finding his prey: a woman named Jane, or maybe Marina. While she initially tries to blow him off, when he reveals who he is and that he knows who she is, the entire tone of the issue shifts dramatically.
The issue then goes into the events and case that led up to this meeting. Farraday’s client was a rich man and this woman was his mistress. Farraday himself was an ex-cop, and went into private investigation because he had a gift for finding people. Detailing Farraday’s process of finding Jane, Brubaker and Phillips are really able to show the readers the inside of this character’s mind, something that they’ve been doing excellently for years. The story is incredibly gripping and real, and somehow, despite never actually having her speak a line of dialogue for the majority of the issue, Brubaker and Phillips are able to make the reader feel as if they know Jane. All of her actions add to the tapestry of this character, and by the time Dan finally catches up with her, everything she does lines up perfectly with what the readers have come to understand about her. It is incredible character work, made even more impressive by Jane’s lack of presence throughout the entire flashback.
While Jane’s actions and words aren’t unpredictable once the reader has gotten a feel for who she is, the ending of the issue is. Setting up the next part of this story arc, Brubaker brings back one of the original characters of this book, Teeg Lawless. The potential directions that this story could go are endless, and this issue really shows that Brubaker’s plotting skills have only improved with time. The pacing of the issue is airtight, and by the end of it there’s enough meat to be satisfying, and enough left to be excited for the next issue. The cliffhanger ending is compelling enough to be exciting for new readers, and even more rewarding for longtime fans of the series who are invested in Teeg’s journey.
Phillips’ art is just as incredible as Brubaker’s writing here, as well. Alongside Jacob Phillips’ colors, every panel pops and looks unique. Characters’ body language and facial expressions are able to sell their emotions without any words. The art itself tells a story, even without the overlaid narration. The panel layout on each page seems basic, but each panel’s size on the page helps to pace the book incredibly well. Larger panels slow the pace down and allow for heavier moments, and inside the panels each character is framed in a way that adds even more meaning to their interactions. Sean Phillips’ work continues to transcend all expectations, and still only seems to be improving.
Everything about this issue is masterfully crafted. From Brubaker’s writing to Phillips’ art and Phillips’ colors, and even the letters, there isn’t a single line out of place in this issue. It’s difficult to achieve perfection, yet Brubaker and Phillips seem to consistently do it every issue of this series. Criminal is a must-read comic every issue, and this one continues the trend.