Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Criminal 1 and 2; Cross Bronx 1-3

Ed Brubaker-Sean Phillips

By now you've probably already heard a lot about this newish book by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. So take this all with a kind of Out of the Past joy. Book's good. It's damn good. The book is about a coward named Leo who happens to be a brilliant criminal and a "one last heist" sort of situation that goes awry for various reasons.

The book plot wise hits all the right notes we've come to expect from the crime/noir genre. But as in most instances, what separates the best from the rest in this field is whether you can fill in the details in a compelling way, and Phillips and Brubaker definitely do. The art, of which the cover is a very poor indication in my opinion, is perfect for this book, and really sings at times. There's a quote from one of the reviews in the back of one of the issues that says something like, it makes the characters look like they are drenched in the blackest blood from hell, or something to that effect, and yeah that's about right.

Brubaker does a great job on the very first page of the book of building the pathos behind our main character, after finishing issue two, I went back and reread that first couple of pages, and it really is quite brilliant. The way Brubaker both sets up all of the elements that will be involved for the rest of the story, and the way that he pulls you through the page, holding Leo's "rules" out in front of you like a carrot, makes the beginning of this book almost textbook in terms of how to grab a reader by the throat and never let go.

And really, this book doesn't slow down. It clocks in at 26 pages, plus some extras at the back of the book(issue two has a Brubaker article about Out of the Past), so you are talking n about getting real bang for you buck.

I regret that I was so slow to pick up on this book, so if you're like me and kind of slow on these things sometimes, don't waste time. This is definitely a book you want to rush to. It's only going to be five issues, so you better act quickly, otherwise you'll be trade bait. If you are at all a fan of the crime genre, the craft of storytelling, or just like something slick to slip between readings of Civil War, this is your book. You have to hand it to Marvel. This kind of book is refreshing from a company that has mostly stuck to it's tights. Between this and the success they've had with Laura K. Hamilton's book, I think we could be entering a new era with Marvel. It would be nice if they could forge an answer to DC's Vertigo label.

Oh. Also of note, there's a cool Kafka/detective comic strip that serves as a metatexual reference to the overarching story that is going on in this book, ala the Pirate comic in The Watchmen, so if you're into that--well there you go.

Cross Bronx
Michael Avon Oeming-Ivan Brandon

Cross Bronx is a supernatural crime comic drawn and partly written by Michael Avon Oeming of Powers fame with the help of Ivan Brandon. It attempts to have a distinctly Latin flavor to it. I say attempts because if there's a failing of this pretty wonderful book, it's that the attempts to Latinize the book for me fall flat on their face. There is a disconnect between how the characters look and how they speak for the most part, that just proves too much to reconcile for the dialogue.

The main detective of the book, swear to god, looks like a kind of Jim Gordon type detective, yet I'm supposed to believe he is Latin? His partner looks like Dante from Clerks the animated series, and I'm supposed to think he is Latin? There are no visual signifiers in the book to make me think any of the detectives or most of the criminals are Latin. Yet that's what the dialogue tries to hammer home at every chance. And besides that, the dialogue is just terrible. There are times when I literally had no idea what was being said.

There was a joke about fellatio in here, that I still don't really understand, but the characters all thought it was clever, I just felt out of the loop. All of this is of course a shame, because the book looks wonderful, the panels are fresh, the overall concept of the book is good--it's just that the nuts and bolts writing of the book falls flat. Honestly this book would be better if you stripped out the text from the book and just let the pictures tell the story.

Also the whole cop losing or having lost his faith in the world has been done before, and done a lot better. It's something that is alluded to, but not fully developed in the book, and could be dropped altogether from the book, and I don't know if you'd miss it. Though I almost guarantee in issue four it's going to be brought back as the central focus inexplicably.

Frustrating frustrating book. Don't get me wrong though, it's hardly a bad book. My problems with the book are overstated because part of me really does like the book a lot, and so the things holding it back are that much more frustrating. It's not a bad book, but it could have been a lot better.

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