Vids I Dig 190: Comic Tropes: ‘Criminal’: How Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips Tackle Noir

From Comic Tropes’ YouTube description: Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips formed one of my personal favorite creative teams in comics. Since 2006, they’ve been releasing crime stories in their series Criminal. This video looks at their partnership and the noir tropes they utilize to make their comics.

Comic Review: Gotham Central – Book One: In the Line of Duty

Published: March 15th, 2011
Written by: Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka
Art by: Michael Lark

DC Comics, 241 Pages

Review:

Gotham Central is a comic book series that I have heard nothing but praise for since it started back in 2002. I never read it but I have now read a lot of Ed Brubaker’s crime comics, as well as Greg Rucka’s Stumptown, which has a similar tone and style.

Since I am a fan of both writers’ crime stuff, as well as a Batman fan, I figured that giving this a read was long overdue.

What’s cool about Gotham Central is that it primarily focuses on the police officers on the Gotham City Police Department with very little involvement from Batman. Hell, this first collection doesn’t even feature Commissioner Gordon. I’m not sure if he comes back to the fold by the end of this series but so far, no Gordon in the GCPD.

While Brubaker and Rucka get this series started with a bang, Brubaker stepped away after the first arc, giving Rucka control of the series’ narrative.

There are two big tales in this. The first being about the GCPD trying to take down Mr. Freeze without the aid of Batman, the second being about Renee Montoya’s being forced out of the closet and into a murder frame up plot by Two-Face.

I actually didn’t realize that this was the series where Montoya was first depicted as a lesbian. I actually thought it was before this but having never read that story, it was handled pretty well and I liked the way it played out, why she was outed to her colleagues and family and then how it all came to a head in a surprising and twisted way.

This was pretty good top to bottom. I don’t know if I’m as enthused about it as many others were but I at least want to read the second volume to see how this series plays out over a larger sample size.

While it deals with some heavy shit for a standard DC comic book, I wouldn’t say that it gets as dark and messed up as Brubaker’s other crime stories. I’d say this is actually closer in tone to Rucka’s Stumptown series.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other three books in the Gotham Central series, as well as Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka’s own crime comics.

Comic Review: Criminal, Vol. 1: Coward

Published: January 28th, 2015
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips, Val Staples

Marvel Comics, Image Comics (reprint), 143 Pages

Review:

I’ve read a lot of Ed Brubaker’s crime comics up to this point but I still hadn’t picked up an issue or trade paperback of Criminal. So what better place to start than the first collected volume?

The story pretty much starts off with a bang and gives a lot of insight into the main character, his background and his personal motivations. It doesn’t take long before he is roped into a heist, which brings in a bunch of unsavory characters.

Like most crime stories with a noir flavor, there are twists and swerves.

Up until the heist, I wasn’t sold on this story. It started out okay but it doesn’t really come alive until the heist pops off and turns into an absolute clusterfuck full of rules being broken and double crosses.

It’s the heist itself and everything that happens after that makes this story so great. The first act was merely used for setup but once you get to the end of that act, everything goes high octane and then the characters develop quite beautifully.

The second and third acts are superb, mainly because the story veers into a direction you don’t expect and because Brubaker did such a stupendous job at making you care about the two main people in the story.

The danger feels real and the stakes are incredibly high and if this is how Criminal starts, I can’t wait to read the other stories in this neo-noir, crime anthology.

I loved this book and a lot of the credit also has to go to the fabulous art of Sean Phillips, who is always the perfect creative partner for Brubaker’s crime tales.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other volumes in the Criminal anthology series, as well as other crime comics by Ed Brubaker.

Comic Review: Scene of the Crime

Published: 1999
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Michael Lark, Sean Phillips

Vertigo Comics, Image Comics (reprint), 132 Pages

Review:

I’ve been catching up on a lot of Ed Burbaker’s crime comics because I missed a lot of the old ones and because it is the month of Noirvember.

Scene of the Crime was the comic that put him on the map. It led to him working on Gotham Central and also paved the way for his future crime comics like Criminal, Kill Or Be Killed, The Fade Out and Fatale, just to name a few.

This one was highly regarded at the time that it came out and while it is pretty good, it isn’t my favorite of the Brubaker lot.

I can see how he developed his style here and it is a good, solid and competent story but it didn’t capture my attention like The Fade Out or Kill Or Be Killed did.

At its core, this is a noir tale set in contemporary times that sees a young private detective try to locate a girl that’s gone missing. However, he finds her fairly quickly, she’s then killed and we’re then treated to a pretty grandiose mystery story with lots of layers and twists.

This is a really dark tale but fans of Brubaker’s crime work shouldn’t expect anything different. I can’t go into more detail without feeling like I’d spoil too much but this is a pretty decent read with solid art by Brubaker’s top collaborators Michael Lark and Sean Phillips.

Despite this not being my favorite, it is still a good comic miniseries and a solid tale in the crime and noir genres.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Ed Brubaker’s other crime comics.

Comic Review: Kill Or Be Killed

Published: 2016-2018
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Image Comics, 582 Pages

Review:

I have yet to steer myself wrong with Ed Brubaker’s crime comics. And like most of the others, this one has a very strong noir vibe to it.

This seems to have more in common with Fatale than The Fade Out, as it has some supernatural elements in it. Or what one initially presumes is supernatural. In the end, it’s not really clear but that’s kind of what’s cool about this twenty issue comic book series.

First of all, the series’ vigilante “hero” has some serious mental health issues. In fact, the demon he sees could very well be a figment of his imagination.

But there is a demon here and whether or not he’s real kind of doesn’t matter. The demon claims to have saved Dylan from a suicide attempt and in return, tells Dylan that he has to pay his debt by taking the life or a terrible person, once a month. Otherwise, he will become deathly ill and die.

Dylan is obviously resistant to this but ultimately, gets really damn good at it. So in a way, this is kind of like a combination of Death Note and The Punisher. But it still feels wholly original, even if it feels like it was strongly influenced by both of those things.

My only real issue with the series is that the conclusion felt kind of abrupt. As if this was supposed to go on beyond twenty issues but Brubaker decided to move on to other projects. And I can’t really call the ending a satisfying one.

But what really captivated me more than the story, was the creative team. Every time Brubaker works with Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser, we are guaranteed a comic series that works on every level.

While not my favorite comic from this team, it is still a damn good one and my eyes were glued to every page.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other crime comics by Ed Brubaker.

Comic Review: The Fade Out

Published: 2015
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser

Image Comics, 327 Pages

Review:

Several months back, I read the Fatale series by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser. I thought it was cool as hell and I loved the noir meets Lovecraftian vibe. So I wanted to give this a read, as it seemed to be more straight noir without the horror and supernatural elements.

And honestly, I love classic film-noir and wish there were more noir comics in modern times.

This was, hands down, one of the best modern comics I’ve ever read. I’d definitely call this a classic and it just hit all the right notes for me. In fact, overall, I liked it more than the stupendous Fatale.

Brubaker is a master of his craft, especially in regards to the crime genre. The Fade Out is no different but it has an extra layer of awesomeness in that it is a period piece, set in Hollywood in the era of classic film-noir.

This truly is noir but it’s also a dark showbiz story, which usually is a great mix. With Brubaker’s writing talent, he weaved a well structured, multi-layered mystery that just knocks it out of the park.

Additionally, Sean Phillips, Brubaker’s go-to guy crafted some stellar art for this book but his work is always a perfect compliment to Brubaker’s narrative style.

On top of that, Elizabeth Breitweiser’s colors give this even more life and after reading this and the Fatale series, I’d say that she is my favorite colorist that works with Phillips. Honestly, Brubaker, Phillips and Breitweiser are one of my favorite creative teams, hands down.

The Fade Out is damn near perfect. While it may not appeal to comic book readers who stick to primarily superhero and sci-fi stuff, it is a great example of how the comic book medium can be used outside of what it’s mostly known for by today’s audiences.

This really is a solid callback to the crime comics of yore but even then, it’s better than most of those ever were.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: other noir-esque crime comics by Ed Brubaker.

Comic Review: Captain America: Winter Soldier, Vol. 2

Published: October 11th, 2006
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Steve Epting, Michael Lark, Mike Perkins

Marvel Comics, 136 Pages

Review:

This was a pretty good second half to the original Winter Soldier story. I liked the first half a bit more though. But I think that’s because reading this lacked tension, as I knew that Winter Soldier was actually Bucky and that he’d come around and start to see the light.

That lack of tension is my fault for taking so long to read this story. It’s certainly not Brubaker’s fault and I’m sure this was tense as hell for those that read it for the first time in 2006 without any knowledge of the Winter Soldier character.

I like that Brubaker does spend a good amount of time flashbacking to World War II and the Invaders era. The context was nice and the parallels between Cap and Bucky’s lives then and now was well done.

This story also adds in Falcon and Iron Man, which obviously influenced the MCU films that saw these two characters chime in on Cap’s relationship with Winter Soldier.

Like the previous volume, the art was really good and Brubaker truly benefits from having solid artists on his Captain America books, as they definitely enhance the atmosphere and tone of the plot in the right way.

For Cap fans who haven’t read the Brubaker run, you’re doing yourselves a disservice. Hell, for fans of just the movies, this is definitely worth checking out just to understand the depth of these characters’ bond.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run.