Riley Richards has a perfect life. His wife is a stunner, he married into money, his future is set as the VP of a large corporation and he has a secret life of seedy pleasures. But Riley is fixated on the simplicity and innocence of times past in his old hometown and yearns for the best of both worlds, and with the formulation of a plan he might just be able to get it, though the plan involves deceit, betrayal and murder.
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal series of graphic novels are stand-alone stories of crime noir in which characters from the varying books may cross paths but you don’t need the whole series to understand the particulars of the individual stories, though it does form a richer experience if you do. To put it a different way (and in Brubaker’s own words) think of the Criminal series as Sin City if when a character jumps from a second story window they break both ankles.
The Last of the Innocent marks the sixth book in a series that, pound for pound, is one of the best crime comics on the shelves (alongside Jason Aaron’s Scalped), and doesn’t disappoint. Fans of the series can pretty much expect more of the same, with the emphasis this time being placed on the accumulated situations in life (with fun Archie-like flashback sequences to carefree teenage misadventures) that can lead an everyman up a very dark path.
For those who have yet to read any of the Criminal books I would suggest you get on it right away, pick up Coward, the first of the series, and work your way through.
What sets the Criminal books apart from many other crime stories of any medium are their apparent lack of sensation in both the writing and the artwork. Brubaker spins tales that could easily take place in any given city with twists and plot points that come from leftfield but seem totally believable. That’s not to suggest that they are boring or uncomfortably grim, the pacing and settings see to that. They trot along at a wonderful pace, at once taking time to flesh out the characters while constantly keeping the plot moving. To top it all off, Brubaker manages to infuse each story, no matter the main character or period setting, with that distinctive Raymond Chandler grit.
Sean Phillips’ artwork only goes to compliment the writing, grounding the entire thing with a realistic, no nonsense style that has a rough enough edge to make the anonymous city feel like it’s a place that bad things can and do happen on a regular basis. It’s not a style that will blow your socks off, but it is a style that works perfectly for this type of material.
The various collaborations between Brubaker and Phillips, which include Wildstorm’s Sleeper and their other creator owned book, Incognito, have illustrated that they are one of the most reliable teams out there, and amongst such top notch intrigue material, Criminal is their finest work, and The Last of the Innocent, though not the best of the bunch, does the series proud.
B grade – for story
B+ grade – for pacing
B grade – for artwork
Overall grade – B