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Review: Criminal #1

THE RETURN OF THE MOST ACCLAIMED CRIME COMIC OF THE 21ST CENTURY! Hot off their bestselling series KILL OR BE KILLED and their original graphic novel MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN JUNKIES, crime comic masters ED BRUBAKER and SEAN PHILLIPS finally return to their most-demanded title—as a new MONTHLY SERIES! In this double-sized (at no additional cost!) debut issue, Teeg Lawless is back in town. But he finds himself in more trouble than ever, thanks to his delinquent teenage son—and this time, fists and bullets may not be enough to solve his problems. A perfect introduction to CRIMINAL and its dark, exciting world, this series will also include back page art and articles to bring readers more fully into the noir experience.

Review: Criminal #1

Teeg Lawless is back in town. But he finds himself in more trouble than ever, thanks to his delinquent teenage son-and this time, fists and bullets may not be enough to solve his problems.

If you’ve never read Ed Brubaker and Sean PhillipsCriminal, you’ve been missing out. For about 8 volumes (depending on what you want to count) the series has been some of the best crime/noir comics our there and just some of the best comics out there period. After a too long break, they’re back with a monthly series that’s a perfect jumping on point.

To say Criminal #1 is good is selling it short. This is one hell of a start and is the type of poetic storytelling that feels so rare in comics today.

The story again revolves around Teeg Lawless who is fresh out of jail and needs to correct the mistakes of his son who has pissed off the wrong people. It’s classic noir/crime with seedy locations, characters, and situations. It nails it all perfectly and it’s a build up to what the score may be to solve Laweless’ issues and get him the money he needs.

The comic is violent but always goes just up to the line in that. It never crosses it and instead leaves some of the worst to off the page allowing readers to imagine what happened. Brubaker and Phillips know how to perfectly pull that off leaving the reader’s imagination to do the worst of the visuals.

And Phillips is key here. Joined by Jacob Phillips on color, the trio deliver a story and visuals that are, and continue to be, a match made in heaven. This is the perfect combination of creators creating a team that’s some of the best ever in comics. Phillips’ grittier art style is made for this type of story. The characters are all unique and their small details are stories unto themselves.

Beyond the comic, there’s also prose included as well. Kim Morgan delivers an essay on Blood Simple, a
 neo-noir crime film that I’m never seen myself. It’s the intelligent icing on the cake of an already really smart read.

Is the comic good? It’s beyond good, it’s great. Criminal #1 shows that Brubaker and Phillips is a team of creators that are some of the best in the comics business. Criminal #1 is one of the strongest debuts in quite a while and a very welcomed return.

Story: Ed Brubaker Art: Sean Phillips Color: Jacob Phillips
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips Renew Their Exclusive Deal with Image

Bestselling, multiple Eisner Award-winning creators Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have renewed their exclusive deal with Image Comics. The previously unprecedented deal with Image was first announced—alongside The Fade Out launch—five years ago, and the renewal is effective immediately.  

Brubaker and Phillips’ success took a new format recently in their first original graphic novel, a Criminal tie-in story, titled My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, which reached critical acclaim and received a coveted starred review by Library Journal.Next up for the duo is a return to a classic, Criminal.

The last five years at Image, with the freedom to just follow our creative instincts and do whatever we want to, has been the most successful time of our long career together. The Fade Out, Kill Or Be Killed, My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, and the Criminal magazines have been our biggest hits so far, and—as I recently learned on my book tour—each one has brought our work to new readers. So I couldn’t be happier that Image wants to sign us up for another five years.

And it’s that freedom to experiment that made me want to launch Criminal as a monthly again. One of the things Eric Stephenson [Publisher and Chief Creative Officer at Image Comics] and I have talked about for a while is that almost all comics are now just serials written for the collection. It seems like the single issue itself, the thing the comics market was built on, is becoming an afterthought.

So I wanted to bring back Criminal as a monthly comic that would stand apart by really embracing the format, and trying to be something surprising every issue. I don’t want readers to know what’s coming next. Will it be a standalone issue, or the start of a two-parter? Will it be a bunch of issues that you suddenly realize are adding up to something bigger? The only way to find out is to buy the comic every month. We want to take you on a ride every month, and we don’t want you to know where you’re going. Just that it’s probably to the wrong side of town.

– Ed Brubaker

Criminal #1 (Diamond Code NOV180021) will be available on Wednesday, January 9th. The final order cutoff deadline for comics retailers is Monday, December 10th. 

Criminal #1 Cover
Criminal #2 cover

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips Return to Criminal in a New Monthly Series

Hot off the critically acclaimed, bestselling series Kill or Be Killed and breakout hit original graphic novel My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, crime comic masters Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips return to their beloved, iconic Criminal series. The multiple Eisner award-winning Criminal will return as an all-new monthly from Image Comics in January 2019.

Criminal #1 will debut as a double-sized issue, featuring the return of Teeg Lawless, whose teenage son is causing him trouble that he may not be able to fight his way out of, for the first time in his violence-fueled life.

A perfect introduction for readers to the dark and exciting world of Criminal, this new series will also include back-page articles and illustrations to bring readers more fully into the noir experience.

Criminal #1 (Diamond Code NOV180021) will be available on Wednesday, January 9th. The final order cutoff deadline for comics retailers is Monday, December 10th.

Review: Kill or Be Killed #20

In the final issue of Kill or Be Killed, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser get gutsy narrative-wise by killing off their protagonist Dylan on the opening page, trying a kind of alternate ending, and then switching narrators altogether towards the end of the book. It’s unreliable narration at its finest, and Phillips and Breitweiser turn in some final snow blown New York vistas while Brubaker finally unpacks the book’s message in dramatic fashion, which is basically, “Everything and everyone is screwed”. And, in connection to the real world, this message makes much more sense that when the comic first dropped in the relatively halcyon days of August 2016. In a country where children are separated from their mothers and put in cages, women’s reproductive rights are on the chopping block, and there doesn’t seem to be much to be excited for on 4th of July, Kill or Be Killed’s observations about the unbeatable nature of evil sadly ring true. It’s not something that be thrown in jail or gunned down with a shotgun, it simply is.

Continuing a trend that has permeated the series, Ed Brubaker gives the protagonist, Dylan, some great valid points , but when it all boils down to it: he’s a white male gunning down people. The “imaginary” sequence narrated by him from the afterlife where he has a relatively stable life, is in a relationship with Kira, and acquaintances with the police officer who has been hunting him down the whole series culminates in him killing a corrupt cop and continuing to be a vigilante. (Although, he changes his outfit and M.O. every so often to keep the press, criminals, and NYPD off his trail because everyone’s genre savvy beyond the grave.) Brubaker, Phillips, and Breitweiser riff off superhero comics for a bit in these scenes calling Dylan’s vigilante activities “an unsustainable fantasy version of life” and having the images of a masked man gunning down criminals or brooding on a rooftop ring hollow. The ever present snow helps.

Up to this point, I’ve been qualifying Kill or Be Killed #20 and the series as a whole as having a message or point, and it sort of does: the cycle of evil and the futility of violence to stop it. But, to its credit, Ed Brubaker isn’t preachy in the series using the unreliable narrator device to cast doubt on if Dylan is a sympathetic protagonist, and he and Sean Phillips even play to the lizard brain part of humans and give him a kind of “happy ending” that seems unearned and is ripped away for a path of pain and actual consequences. In what constitutes the comic’s third act, Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser relax the stylized panel compositions and dark greys, reds, and blacks for something more neutral and slice of life. Kill or Be Killed has gone from the New York of Death Wish to the New York of the “New York, I Love You” episode of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None although it forgoes its diverse POV for the perspective of a dead white man and a white woman. It’s almost like Brubaker and Philips are apologizing for unleashing Bernhard Goetz 2018 edition on 2018’s New York City.

However, this vibrancy is short lived as Brubaker switches narrators one final time from dead, omniscient Dylan (On a craft level, Kill or Be Killed proves that omniscient narrators still work in comics.) to Kira, whose emotions are filtered out in beautifully lettered captions that are like Todd Klein’s elaborate letters on Batman Year One, but on Sticky Notes. She’s angry that her best friend was ground down by his mental health issues, society around him, and his violent coping mechanisms and coupled with men cat-calling her at every corner, it leads to a breaking point and a literal mirror image of the possibly supernatural inciting incident of Kill or Be Killed. It also made me think about how even more fantastic this series would have been if Kira was the protagonist…

After an action heavy penultimate issue, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser use Kill or Be Killed #20 to play around with traditional narrative expectations and look at how life is both terrible and precious from a beyond the grave perspective. And, in closing, Dylan’s vigilante activities were definitely not commendable, and he needed psychiatric help much earlier than the final arc, but he made some excellent social observations throughout the series.

Story: Ed Brubaker Art: Sean Phillips Colors: Elizabeth Breitweiser
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.3 Recommendation: Buy 

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Kill or Be Killed #19

In the penultimate issue of the series, Kill or Be Killed #19 ties so many threads together as Detective Sharpe finally realizes that Dylan, not some random guy who got shot, is the masked vigilante. But the main event, or basically double feature, for Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Bettie Breitweiser is a ethics debate between Dylan and Sharpe about why he is a vigilante that is bookended by a tight corner, white knuckle shootout in the ironically named Serenity Oaks. Kill or Be Killed is smart and visceral and beautiful too with a blanket of snow covering the whole issue.

Sean Phillips uses different grids for the “interrogation” sequence in Kill or Be Killed #19 going wide when Dylan realizes that Sharpe has no jurisdiction to arrest or charge him and going skinny when he opens up after Sharpe brings up him killing his drug dealer, Rex, the only “innocent” caught in the crossfire. It doesn’t involve any intense violence, but has all the weight of a great reveal as Dylan gives up everything while also justifying his actions and even asking for thanks from the police officer. Phillips adds a nice level of subtext using the motivational posters in the room like “It’s okay to ask for help” when he opens up. The scene is a setpiece in and of itself with Dylan and Sharpe playing all kinds of emotional and moral trump cards when Dylan decides to go back to his room. However, Sharpe isn’t there to make an arrest; like Clarice in Silence of the Lambs, she’s interested in the psychology behind this vigilante killer. And Dylan finds a little bit of catharsis, and Phillips eases the wrinkles on his face for a bit until Kill or Be Killed kicks into action mode featuring its favorite baddies: the Russian mob. This scene plays out a lot like your favorite director just letting a couple great actors loose in a room as Phillips’ facial acting and use of gutters and Breitweiser’s fluctuating use of shadow play out a second act that is one hell of a moral drama.

With the help of a few panels in the beginning of Kill or Be Killed #19 that show how Dylan has been planning to be a better vigilante while on new meds, the fight between him and Sharpe and the Russian mobsters show how far he’s come since a freaked out, Brooklyn hipster shooting bad people to make a demon shut up. Brubaker and Phillips give him one-liners that would be badass without the context of the series, has him coolheadedly direct a plan of escape,  and even has him make a heroic play towards the end, but scenes that would be “Hell yes!” in any other comic or action movie are downright tragic in Kill or Be Killed. Dylan doesn’t need a gun; he needs help. He may make some valid points about how the United States is a plutocracy, but solves this problem by shooting people in the head. However, Brubaker and Philips don’t make any black and white judgments on him (Even though this is how Dylan says he sees in the world in a sequence reminiscient of Heath Ledger’s Joker with less grease paint.) and make the Russians’ arrival at Serenity Oaks the result of a corrupt cop, not vigilantism. This book loves its moral conundrums, which is great, and places it in the well-earned company of Brian Garfield’s original novel Death Wish , not the Charles Bronson and especially not the 2018 remake directed by Eli Roth.

When reading Kill or Be Killed, I either think that Dylan makes some good points about systemic injustice, is a total violent fuckboy, or is somewhere in between. He isn’t a conventionally likable protagonist, especially in an age of white male mass shooters, even though Ed Brubaker gives him the political views of a frustrated progressive. However, towards the end of Kill or Be Killed #19, he and Sean Phillips start to give Dylan a real, guns a-blazing redemption arc. But his actions with Sharpe against the Russians show how numb he is to killing compared to the police officer who is in shock as the snow swirls around them providing Phillips and Breitweiser a visual shorthand to her emotional state.

With beautifully staged debates about justice and corruption and a chilling, closing action sequence, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Bettie Breitweiser turn in virtuosic shadow drenched and snow blown work in Kill or Be Killed #19. I can’t wait to see how this grounded lofi (at times) approach to the vigilante genre ends…

Story: Ed Brubaker Art: Sean Phillips Colors: Bettie Breitweiser
Story: 9.5  Art: 10 Overall: 9.8  Recommendation: Buy 

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

New Story Arc of Kill or Be Killed an Electric Shock to Readers and Goes Back to Print

The highly anticipated new story arc of Ed Brubaker and Sean PhillipsKill or Be Killed is on fire with fans eager to pick up where the Volume Three trade paperback’s jaw-dropping cliffhanger left off. Kill or Be Killed #15 is being rushed back to print in order to keep up with the overwhelming demand.

A departure from Brubaker and Phillips’ noir leanings, fan and retailer support has positioned Kill or Be Killed as one of the hottest series on shelves. The addictive ongoing series hooks readers with monster-of-the-week style storytelling and gut-punch plot twists.

The series is currently in development for the big screen with John Wick Director Chad Stahelski and producer Basil Iwanyk on board the project.

Kill or Be Killed follows a young man who is forced to kill bad people and how he struggles to keep his secret as it slowly ruins his life and the lives of his friends and loved ones. In this cannot-miss issue, Dylan is forced to confront the reality of his violent actions and his sanity…and nothing will ever be the same again.

Every issue of Kill or Be Killed contains extra content and articles only available in the single issues.

Kill or Be Killed #15, 2nd printing (Diamond Code DEC178235) will be available on Wednesday, February 21st. The final order cutoff deadline for comics retailers is Monday, January 29th.

Kill or Be Killed #16 will be available on Wednesday, February 14th.

Brubaker, Phillips, and Breitweiser’s Kill or be Killed to the Big Screen

The John Wick team of director Chad Stahelski and producer Basil Iwanyk are working to bring the comic Kill or Be Killed to the big screen. Dan Casey is attached to write the script. The comic is by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser, and published by Image Comics. Casey has previously adapted Icognito by Brubaker.

Producers for the film include Iwanyk, Erica Lee, Jeff Waxman, and Brubaker will be an executive producer.

The story revolves around a college student who survives an attempted suicide due to a demon. The demon informs the student for every life he takes he may live for one more month.

(via The Hollywood Reporter)

Review: Kill or Be Killed #11

Killed or Be Killed #11 kicks off with a tantalizing flash-forward of our protagonist Dylan as a millennial Charles Bronson in the Death Wish sequels in a brutal action sequence that the series opened up with. However, this is just a tease from Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser, and the comic settles down to poke around Dylan’s mental state and hint at the tiniest slivers of redemption before taking a sharp, violent left turn in its final scenes. This lull, then storm plot structure makes for entertaining reading as Brubaker and Phillips make Dylan a likable young man trying to get his friend Kira back, pass grad school, and find some semblance of normal in his life until he decides to kill again.

Kill or Be Killed #11 definitely looks at the “psychological” part in psychological thriller, and there’s an extended scene where Dylan half lies and half tells the truth to his therapist, who reprimands him for going off his meds. Breitweiser’s colors sink to a nice medium palette, and Phillips draws Dylan’s body language as moving away from his therapist instead of listening to what he has to say. It’s nice to see Dylan working on his mental health, but his lack of engagement with his therapist and lies to him makes it seem like he’s just trying to tick off a box on a list and return to “normal” without dealing with the consequences of his murders. Dylan isn’t contrite at all; he just wants to avoid the consequences of his actions, which is why it’s hilarious that he wears a Richard Nixon mask to his friend Kira’s Halloween party towards the end of the issue.

Brubaker, Phillips, and Breitweiser continue to make the reality of the demon that supposedly saved Dylan’s life and forces him to kill fairly ambiguous with a couple pages done in pulpy, painted art style showing that his father’s artwork of the creature. Nonetheless, like clock work, Dylan gets deathly ill two months after he killed a Russian mob member and his drug dealer, and the cause isn’t just undercooked falafel. But he doesn’t immediately go into vigilante mode until he hears a young man in a Russian accent asking for his friend Kira and her “boyfriend” Dylan at a coffee shop, and the demon never speaks to him in Kill or Be Killed #11. The ending of the issue started to really make me question the “devil made me do it” motivation for Dylan’s actions and returns to the desperate final issues of the second arc where Dylan was just out to save his own ass through violent, yet sloppy means. Just when readers start to like Dylan more, he goes off and murders someone.

Ed Brubaker continues to treat Dylan’s mental health with empathy without justifying his actions in the slightest. Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser kick in a little romance and add more light to their usual shadowy art when Dylan interacts with Kira, and the story shifts gears from Death Wish meets Zodiac to a less insufferable early Zach Braff film with two young people rekindling a spark in Greenwich Village after dealing with a host of relationship issues. That tone is short lived when Dylan gets sick, and the art becomes more painterly and apocalyptic. There’s a tension between wanting Dylan to feel better, not wanting him to kill again , and a third, liberating door that it’s an imbalance in brain chemistry telling him this. It’s a moral muddle, and Dylan’s own internal struggle is more riveting and infinitely more relatable than the Russian gangsters on his tail.

After an insanely compelling and action master class of a cold open, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser so straight slice of life for most of Kill or Be Killed #11 examining Dylan’s post-vigilante motivation and relationship with Kira. But cue the last few pages, and the comic is back to be one hell of (a heavy on the anti) an antihero with a Richard Nixon mask starring thrill ride. (Fingers crossed that he runs into someone in a Hunter S. Thompson outfit at next issue’s costume party.

Story: Ed Brubaker Art: Sean Phillips Colors: Elizabeth Breitweiser
Story: 8.0  Art: 9.5 Overall: 8.8  Recommendation: Buy 

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
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