This series, since the beginning, has had a certain timeless quality. Brubaker revels in noir and pulp tropes, but Criminal is set in the contemporary era. Yet, this issue truly cements it as genuinely ingenious neo-noir.
Issue #8 evokes Pynchon in the way it reminisces and meditates on how the times change and yet stay the same; especially in regards to the generation gap. Mike Mills also comes to mind, even in regards to using narration to convey how tragic things will inevitably become (a la 20th Century Women). The lonesome characters of Criminal are washed-up children of the ’70s, falling into the same traps as their hated Boomer parents.
At first I was frustrated at this arc’s lack of movement and herky-jerky POV. While I don’t retract those feelings, ‘Cruel Summer’ has formed into something more introspective and simmering.
Jane, the enigmatic femme fatale who stole Teeg Lawson’s heart and pissed off Ricky, has the floor in #8. In fact, after this issue, it feels unfair to call her a femme fatale; such is the intimacy we’re given to her.
A plan is being made with Teeg—a criminal one. It’s going well. But that disturbs Jane. See, ever since she could remember, her father was building a bomb shelter, listening fervently to the radio for confirmation; as if a nuke going off would validate his society-induced paranoia. Maybe justify the way he’s treated his family.
Strikingly, like a good Taylor Swift song, the memories bite best when there are details. Specifics. Jane doesn’t just think: “Boy, this reminds me of my crazy dad. He built a bomb shelter.” Instead, we’re given the haunting image of “him coming in the kitchen door covered in sweat and mud. Drinking a can of beer over the sink.” You can practically smell this guy.
Another just as powerful scene has Jane going into an old bar she used to fraternize. A place that used to team with hippies and bikers now lies as slumped as the middle-aged patrons. Although she feels sad for the waitress, Rhonda, and the whole place, Jane goes in regardless.
Thus, a jittery paranoia is passed down to Jane, who realizes Ricky (who’s now listening to Joy Division, the badass) has gone missing. Even though she’s waiting and predicting something will go wrong, survival instinct kicks in, and she sets out to find the precocious rebel. By the time she finds him, their relationship has already shifted into something more complex and dark. Without spoiling anything, no matter how much Jane tried to be cautious, it’s the little details that the narration promises will undo them all.
I’ve been going back and reading some earlier Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips work—and I don’t mean to be sacrilegious or rude—but Jacob Philips is by far the best colorist. Even the scenes that evoke realism are as stunning as more garish palettes. Muted grays and yellows convey an early morning scheme and then moments of startling realization. When danger’s afoot, green faces off against the purple and pink of a city at nightfall. If Criminal was a television show, it’d have the best cinematography around. While Philips’s linework isn’t as tight as something like Kill or Be Killed, the blotchy inks serve the muddy moral waters of the story well. Even then, he gives streets and buildings and locations more precise, recognizable details than most artists.
One last detail: the article in the back is about the 1963 film, Ladybug Ladybug. I’ve never head of it before, but it’s fittingly about a school that’s alerted to a nuclear threat.