Review: Criminal Volume 1: Coward

Published on April 5th, 2011

For this latest edition of Trade Tuesday, I’ve decided to focus on a book that I’ve wanted to do for quite some time. Mostly because it’s an Ed Brubaker book and everything he writes is pure awesome, especially this book. In case you couldn’t figure it out from the headline, the book I’m referring to is, Criminal Vol. 1: Coward. The art is done by Sean Phillips, who has done all the Criminal books and also does Incognito with Mr. Brubaker.

criminal_v1

If you haven’t read any of the Criminal books, you are missing out. At this point, there has been five Criminal stories. Each one is a self contained story that focuses on a different character. What’s really cool about these books, is that they all have characters that cross over into the other stories. It’s a little bit like Sin City, but more realistic.

This first volume centers on a character by the name of Leo Patterson. Leo grew up in the criminal lifestyle. His father, Tommy Patterson, was part of the greatest pick-pocket crew with his pal, Ivan. Tommy was later arrested and sent to prison where he died, so Ivan pretty much raised Leo. Leo is now all grown up and is widely known for being one of the best heist planners because he has a knack for perceiving all the angles. Leo is also known to be a coward because at the first sign of trouble he’ll make a run for it and leave his partners behind if he has to. The phrase, “better to run away and live to fight another day” comes to mind.

Leo is minding his own business, until one day, one of his old partners, Seymour, shows up with a crooked cop named Jeff. Jeff has some inside information on an armored car that will be carrying 5 million bucks worth of stolen diamonds for evidence in an upcoming trial. At first, Leo isn’t interested because he thinks it’ll be too risky, but when his old friend, Greta shows up and asks him to do it and bring her in so that she can get enough money to get her daughter a better life, he agrees.

Leo does his thing and comes up with the perfect plan to get the diamonds, but on the day of the heist, Jeff and Seymour double cross Leo and set him up for a fall. Greta ends up getting shot, but Leo is able to get her out along with a suitcase from the armored car with almost a million bucks worth of heroin. Leo takes Greta to his safe house in the country to give her a chance to recuperate and come up with a plan to get out of this mess and hopefully get paid. After a couple of days, Leo takes the drugs back to the city to sell back to Jeff,  but when Greta attempts to contact her mother where Jeff has been waiting for her, everything goes to Hell.

Greta’s mother is killed and her daughter is kidnapped and now Jeff is on his way to kill Greta. When Leo finds out, he races back to his house to rescue Greta, but by the time he gets there, he’s too late. Luckily, Leo is able to rescue Greta’s daughter and get her to safety. Then, instead of walking away like he normally would, Leo decides to go after all the people that set him up and killed Greta. Leo becomes a total bad-ass and is able to get his revenge, but in the end he ends up being shot and left bleeding to death until the cops show up.

I love crime stories and I guarantee you, they don’t get much better than this. Brubaker has mastered gritty storytelling and Phillips’ art is absolutely perfect for this book. It makes me sad to admit that I never picked up a Criminal comic until the latest story line,  The Sinners came out. They’ve come up with some top-notch characters for these comics and I think Leo is one of the best. There’s a lot of depth to this guy. At first you think he’s just this selfish jerk-off, but as the book goes on, you learn more and more about him and realize he’s not. He’s really devoted to his dad’s old partner, Ivan, who not only suffers from Alzheimer’s, but is a heroine addict. In the end, it’s the guilt he feels for Greta from their shared past that brings him down.

I loved reading this book. Every once in a while it’s nice to read a comic that’s more reality based. The only downside to this trade is the lack of extras. It’s only got a short intro from Tom Fontana and a couple of quick bios at the end. If you really like Criminal, you might want to go ahead and get the deluxe hardcover edition that has the first three trades. Apparently, that book has a bunch of cool features. If you just want to read the story (which is well worth that cash) you can get the trade at Amazon for just over 10 bucks.

Ken Zeider
Ken@ComicImpact.com