The second volume in Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s Criminal series is another self-contained standalone story – you can dive into this without having to bother with the first if you wish, or even go back to it later.
The idea behind the series is that we follow a particular villain through an important section of his life: the first saw a retired robber dragged back into crime for one last heist. This is slightly different, following Tracy Lawless, a discharged soldier, on his own mission to get revenge for the death of his brother. Ricky Lawless was part of a successful gang of armed robbers and Tracy infiltrates the group in an effort to find out what happened and what he needs to do to avenge Ricky’s mysterious death.
Brubaker’s characters are rich and complex. Flashbacks to the brothers’ childhoods spin stories of abuse and sadness, fleshing out the morally barren men they become. Every other character we come across is filled-out with a back-story and a complex web of relationships that span the Lawless generations. It’s deftly plotted, revealing as much or as little as is required as we go along. Which, armed with Tracy’s unpredictable temperament, will keep you tightly hooked until the grand finale.
Phillips’s art is as important as Brubaker’s personality studies, bringing life to the characters’ bodies and faces, while managing to keep them bathed in the essential shadows of the noir but perfectly coherent world they inhabit.
The series hits its stride with this book, which is as good a crime thriller as you’ll find in any medium. It’s well worth investigating if you enjoy tightly-plotted thrillers told from the perspective of the bad guys.