Criminal Volume 1: Coward

Volume 1:Coward
Written by Ed Brubaker
Drawn by Sean Phillips
Published by Marvel (Icon)

Leo Patterson knows when to run. Always thinking, always planning, always looking for another way out, Leo was raised by the two best pickpockets of their generation, his father Tommy and his partner Ivan. Now, with his father dead, Ivan suffering from Alzheimers and Leo five years out from being the only survivor of a disastrous heist, he finds himself faced with a job that there only seems to be one way out of…

Ed Brubaker’s best work is done in the shadows, the grey areas where heroes and villains are replaced by people with power and people who want it. is arguably, his best work. A series of standalone stories set in the same universe, the series has already garnered huge amounts of critical attention, including an Eisner award. Based on this first volume, it’s easy to see why.

Brubaker’s script is sparse on dialogue and incredibly heavy on detail, as we’re introduced to Leo, Ivan and the people they interact with through the Undertow, a criminal bar which also serves as neutral ground. Seymour, the only other survivor of the Salt Bay job and Greta, the girlfriend of one of the men who didn’t survive enter the scene and, together with a drug lord and some corrupt police officers, begin a complex dance of ploy and counterploy. Brubaker gives everyone their moment in the sun, lets everyone reveal just enough to get by and the end result is a book that crackles with tension and the threat of violence long before that violence ever ensues.

Sleeperand Wild CATS collaborator Sean Phillips returns for art duties here and, again, he’s arguably never been better. The characters on display here are painfully human, painfully fragile and the violence, when it comes, is up front, brutal and permanent. However, what really shines in the art are the characters, all crumpled, all different and all completely convincing. From Leo’s slightly tatty beard to the perpetually tense, coiled corrupt cop Jeff, this is a book with as rich and varied a cast as you’ll find.,/p>

Relentlessly bleak, complex and utterly gripping, this is a phenomenal opening story by two creators at the top of their game. You need to read this book, it’s really that simple.

Discuss this topic here.

  • ALASDAIR STUARTAlasdair started writing when he was nine, powered by a hefty diet of '80s cartoons, Doctor Who and Icepops. He's quite tired by this stage but has written a lot of things for a lot of people, including Fortean Times, Neo and Surreal.