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.

Vids I Dig 156: Strip Panel Naked: A History of Colors on Sean Phillips

 

From Strip Panel Naked’s YouTube description: On this episode I look at how colorists have adapted to Sean Phillips’ work over the years, from Sleeper to Criminal to The Fade Out, Kill or be Killed, and the new Criminal series. Seeing how the search for a more expressionist look finally landed with Jacob Phillips and his painterly approach.

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: Fatale – Book Five: Curse the Demon

Published: September 24th, 2014
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips, Bettie Breitweiser

Image Comics, 137 Pages

Review:

I was an immediate fan of Fatale when I read the first book and then that love just solidified as I read the second and third. I didn’t like the fourth story, however, and it took some of the wind out of the sails. By that point, I wasn’t sure how all of this would come together and end.

This book was a step up from the fourth but it wasn’t a satisfying conclusion. I felt like there was a lot of build up with several story arcs from different periods throughout time but now that this has wrapped up, a lot of it seemed pointless.

I like the character of Josephine and her strange powers. But I don’t feel like the backstory behind it all was thoroughly examined enough. This series presents a lot of questions but doesn’t do much in giving you the answers you want. Kind of like the television show Lost.

What attracted me to this was the fact that it was written by Ed Brubaker and had elements of classic film-noir, as well as Lovecraftian horror. If that combination doesn’t sound interesting on its own, then we can’t be friends.

The mystery is never really solved or unraveled in any sort of satisfactory way. I feel like this was just to show the wreckage caused by Josephine, mostly unintentionally, and didn’t have much else to offer other than really great art and cool visuals.

I don’t know, maybe I missed something but by the time I closed the final book, I felt empty.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other volumes in the Fatale series. Also, B. Clay Moore’s Hawaiian Dick series, as both share a lot of similarities with noir and the supernatural.

Comic Review: Fatale – Book Four: Pray For Rain

Published: February 25th, 2014
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips, Bettie Breitweiser

Image Comics, 144 Pages

Review:

I have really enjoyed Ed Brubaker’s Fatale series. However, this was the low point of the series for me. Although, I still haven’t read Book Five.

It’s not that I didn’t like this story, I did, but it was lacking when compared to the books that came before it. Especially, the first two story arcs that were pretty incredible.

Maybe it’s that this has lost the film-noir touch that really made me fall in love with the first two stories. It’s not that this is completely different, tonally. It’s just that this one takes place in the 1990s, sees Josephine shacking up with a bank robbing grunge band and overall, just doesn’t seem to fit cohesively with the other stories. But maybe Book Five will somehow tie all these stories together in an amazing way. I still don’t know how this will all come together in the end.

The art is still great, the story is interesting but there really isn’t a single likable character in the entire book. Jo has amnesia and is pretty much just in the story to create tension and drama between a group of shitheads. There is also a murderous cop but he’s nowhere near as interesting as other antagonists in this series.

I don’t know, I was disappointed with this outing. Maybe Book Five will help this story make more sense but I feel as if it should still stand strong on its own outside of the larger context.

But for now, I feel my interest in this series slipping away.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: The other volumes in the Fatale series. Also, B. Clay Moore’s Hawaiian Dick series, as both share a lot of similarities with noir and the supernatural.

Comic Review: Fatale – Book Three: West of Hell

Published: July 9th, 2013
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips, Dave Stewart, Bettie Breitweiser

Image Comics, 128 Pages

Review:

This third out of the five chapters in the Fatale series is really cool. It doesn’t follow the story arc style of the previous two books, which showcased Josephine and her power over a lead male character, as the forces of darkness closed in on them. Here, we see Josephine throughout history, not knowing what exactly she is, seemingly immortal with the power to easily enchant men.

This is the shortest of the five books, as it collects four issues, as opposed to five. It is also very different in that it jumps around and tells different stories about Josephine throughout different times. This is really an origin story but you still don’t get all the details, just some necessary history.

The first issue in this collection sees her go to the home of a comic book writer who created stories that speak to Jo, as they reflect her experiences and what she sees in her dreams. Ultimately, she wants answers as to what she is. Then we go to the Dark Ages, see her burned at the stake and then taken in by a religious knight that tries to keep her out of the public eye by giving her a place to stay in his cabin in the woods. The third story takes place during the time of the Old West. The fourth and final chapter take place during World War II and sees Josephine in Romania dealing with occult Nazis.

Now I should clarify that the Josephine character goes by different names in different time periods and they could be different incarnations of the same woman or totally different women. We aren’t yet sure what she is and how this all works by this point but answers are certainly coming after this book. At least, one would assume. But all the characters are very much a version of Josephine.

I loved this book and I love this series. Ed Brubaker really wrote some marvelous stuff here. It’s just sad that I’m now more than halfway through the series’ entire run.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: The other volumes in the Fatale series. Also, B. Clay Moore’s Hawaiian Dick series, as both share a lot of similarities with noir and the supernatural.

Comic Review: Fatale – Book Two: The Devil’s Business

Published: January 15th, 2013
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips, Dave Stewart

Image Comics, 136 Pages

Review:

Since I really enjoyed Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Fatale – Book One: Death Chases Me quite a bit, I didn’t want to waste time jumping into the second of the five installments.

Like its predecessor, there is still a healthy amount of noir and Lovecraftian horror in this tale.

I really loved this book. It took what was established in the first, expanded on it greatly and upped the ante as well.

With this volume, you really feel connected to Josephine and her “curse” or whatever the hell it is, we still don’t know exactly by the end of this tale. We just see more history on how her appearance in men’s lives causes severe pain and human wreckage. You also still aren’t sure if she is wholly innocent, a victim of her condition or if there is something more sinister in her past.

This story takes place in ’70s Los Angeles and the antagonists are a Hollywood cult similar to the Manson Family but much more evil and expansive. In fact, the story makes reference to Manson and how even he was speechless in the presence of the cult leader in this tale.

While this is set further away from the traditional film-noir era than the previous book, it feels more in line with a true noir. The darkness of noir and horror merge seamlessly in this and from a stylistic standpoint, this volume is more fine tuned than its predecessor.

The story is dynamic, entertaining and you care about these characters, even though you know that most of them won’t live beyond this dark tale.

Brubaker has really found his groove with Fatale and I absolutely love Sean Phillips artwork.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The other volumes in the Fatale series. Also, B. Clay Moore’s Hawaiian Dick series, as both share a lot of similarities with noir and the supernatural.