Part of the genius of Criminal that I’ve always underplayed in my reviews is the art of longtime Brubaker collaborator Sean Phillips. The two work together flawlessly, and there’s a reason most of Brubaker’s best work was done with Phillips, but for the most part I’ve always given the lion’s share of the credit to Brubaker. I can’t do that in Criminal: The Last of the Innocent.
The book’s main conceit from a writing standpoint is fairly mundane (although, to be fair, extraordinarily well-handled), an examination of nostalgia and envy, of growing old and looking back on your life and idealizing everything you could have done. But the idea comes alive in the hands of Phillips, who illustrates the flashbacks to a more innocent time in the style of old Archie comics – one with cursing, sex and drugs, sure, but the style of the art remains bright and chipper regardless. Phillips deftly handles both the tonal inconsistency of the art with the content and the drastic change in style and keeps the art crisp, expressive and, frankly, really damn pretty.
Criminal: The Last of the Innocent stands poised to be the best of an already incredibly strong series, and #2 continues the shocking, sad decline of Riley as he desperately tries to recapture that lost… something… from his youth. It’s a dark story, even for this series, but Brubaker’s near-flawless characterization combined with Phillips’ ambitious, stylized art make this a must-read.
– Cal Cleary