writer: Ed Brubaker
artist: Sean Phillips
Icon/Marvel Comics, released 10-4-06
As much as I enjoy the science fiction, fantasy, and superhero genres, my favorite will probably always be crime stories. If it's well-crafted noir, gangster, or espionage, I'm almost always sold in an instant. The new ongoing series Criminal from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is a crime comic and, to put it mildly, I'm in love. I've reread this first issue 5 times since I've gotten my hands on it. I reread a lot of my comics, and some of them I've read more than 5 times, but never in less than a month's time. There is magic within the pages of this comic, and I'm not sure that I'm going to be able to describe why I'm so head over heels for it.
It's no secret to those of you who have read my articles here at LowBrow Media that I think Brubaker is writing at a level unparalleled in comics at the moment. Everything he's been putting out has been truly phenomenal. Then re-team him with the brilliantly talented Phillips, who has done some really fine work on Marvel Zombies since their collaboration on Sleeper from Wildstorm/DC a few years back. (I still have yet to read all of Sleeper, but I have to say its one of the best things I've ever read.) It sure looks like Criminal, with it's cast of creator-owned characters under the anything-goes Icon imprint, has the potential to be the perfect comic book series for someone like me.
I'm not going to get into the plot in this review. I'm sure other review I'll write will cover that in the future. I'm going to tell you what I know about this title and why I think it's going to be great. First off, its closest comic cousin is probably Sin City. It'll be focused on the underworld of society, a real world with guns and blood, but no superpowers and no miracles. There is not a main character. Sure, each arc will focus on a character or two, but then it'll move on to someone else's story. These stories will overlap in time and the most characters will interact eventually. I bet that a couple of characters who are referred to in this first issue who do not appear in panel we will not meet until ten issues into the series. The first arc's main character is a guy named Leo. He's a main character, not a hero. If you can tell the difference and you can appreciate that difference, this comic is for you. In fact, if any of this sounds good to you, this comic is for you.
And then there is what may be my favorite aspect of Criminal -- the covers. Phillips has absolutely outdone himself here with these. Issue one and the advance peeks of subsequent issues look gorgeous. They have that old movie poster feel to them, which has fallen out of favor for some reason amongst the studios. I swear I can see Lee Marvin's mug lurking in the background of each one. Just beautiful stuff.
In conclusion, buy Criminal. Buy a bunch of copies. Give a copy to your friends who only read superhero comics. Hell, give a copy to your friend that doesn't read anything, let alone comics. Just get this title off the ground. I can't believe I have to wait a whole month for each issue. It's just not fair.
10 out of 10
X Isle #3 (of 5)
writers: Andrew Cosby & Michael A. Nelson
artist: Greg Scott
BOOM! Studios, released 10-11-06
Halfway through this mini and things continue to get more intriguing. BOOM! has been coming out recently with a really diverse collection of titles. X Isle has been billed online as a Lost knockoff, which I could see saying after the first issue, but after the third it's not a very accurate description any longer. I think this comic is a bit closer to a sci-fi island version of Land of the Lost, only the people they dropped off are actually interesting. It's difficult to pinpoint what the purpose of this group of people on this island is, but if they continue to be attacked by plant monkeys, I'll be satisfied. (That's right, plant monkeys.)
7 out of 10
The Damned #1 (of 5)
writer: Cullen Bunn
artist: Brian Hurtt
Oni Press, released 10-18-06
When I first read the solicitation for The Damned, I had dreams of two of my favorite universes colliding: The Godfather mixed with Joss Whedon's daemons. Of course, it falls short of my personal grand vision, but it's still worth checking out if you're up for some genres combining that usually don't. What newcomer Cullen Bunn brings to the table is a gripping tale of a cursed man who can't die, but can get even. Eddie is damned, for lack of a better term, to never die. Sure, he can take a dirt nap for a few days, but if he's dug up again, he's back up and doing the bidding of mob bosses. Mix him up with a couple of crime families and an ex-girlfriend, and you've got the base of a pretty good story going. My one gripe about Bunn's work is the dialogue of a few of the supporting characters. It's a bit too much like a James Cagney movie for my taste, but thankfully I couldn't pick out an Edward G. Robinson amongst the cast. Meanwhile, Hurtt's art is solid throughout the issue, but none of the character designs appear to be entirely original; that said, I'm not certain that they are supposed to be. The characters very well could be drawn to evoke a classic feel to a world that is very unfamiliar. In the end, take a chance on it if you're in the mood for something a little different.
7 out of 10
writer: Matt Fraction
artist: Gabriel Ba
Image Comics, released 10-18-06
I'm checking back in on this title that I gave a perfect score to it's inaugural issue a few months back in The Longbox, and all things continue to be a go. I love this title. It's crazy and I have to reread it before totally absorbing everything Fraction and Ba pack into each issue, both visually and structurally. This issue was particularly fun. The mission for Cass this time around is to infiltrate the last island of savages left on the planet, kinda like Kong Island in King Kong, but it still exists just like that in modern times. I really, really want to spoil this for you right here, but I won't. I think it's pretty safe to say you won't guess what comes next; I sure as hell didn't. It's fun, it's smart, it's violent, and it's has some really touching moments as well, as it resolves the fate of Casanova's mother. It'll take a bit for new readers to wrap their head around the world of Casanova, but it's completely worth it.
9 out of 10
Doctor Strange: The Oath #1 (of 5)
writer: Brian K. Vaughan
artist: Marcos Martin
Marvel Comics, released 10-4-06
Doctor Strange hasn't really done anything cool in any story that I've read with him in it. He more often than not has been used by writers as a deus ex machina, and because of that tactic, I've developed a involuntary "oh, come on" syndrome every time he pops up in a panel. I didn't lay down $2.99 so some mystical dude can pop up out of nowhere, wave his arm, say "bibbity, bobbity, boo" and Iron Man is suddenly out of his jam. That said, because he's constantly being used tells me that once upon a time he was bad ass. That knowledge swimming in the back of my head combined with one of my favorite authors out there right now penning this miniseries drove me to pick up this one that I would have passed on most any other time. And I am glad I did. First off, the art is fantastic -- a bit cartoony, yet somehow not -- and full of color. Meanwhile, BKV mixes humor (Iron Fist chatting with Arana was just plain great) with full-force drama, unapologetically delivering the unique world of Stephen Strange to us behind an intriguing mystery -- who shot and robbed the doctor, stealing the exilir to cure Wong's cancer, and who orchestrated the whole she-bang. Add the answer to these questions along with Night Nurse and you can count me in for the whole series.
8 out of 10