“Criminal The Sinners” #3 opens with Tracy Lawless, looking to investigate a murder spree, visiting a church, looking for leads. Father Mike lights up a smoke and talks a bit about his tours of duty in the Middle East and the rumors he’s heard in his section of town. He talks about the recent troubles with the church, and says, “It’s gonna be quite a task, getting people to trust this church again.”
The whole opening scene is packed with tight dialogue and a subtext of uncertainty, yet when Lawless leaves, we learn that Father Mike is a lethal Fagin, guiding a brood of teenagers toward their next targets. After admonishing them about their language, of course.
This is a comic that’s about betrayals and reversals, about hard-edged characters looking for some kind of justice in this cruel world. It’s damned good, and Ed Brubaker packs plenty of scenes in this third issue. Lawless bounces from the church to the streets, from the triads to a meeting at the diner, from perfunctory love affair to an envelope full of crime scene photos. And he’s being pursued, not just by one of Father Mike’s boys, not just by underworld thugs, but by Uncle Sam as well. Special Agent Yocum wants Lawless, and he harasses the Undertow’s Jake Brown to find out where he is.
Our boy Gnarly won’t roll over on him, of course.
“Criminal The Sinners” benefits from its engagement with the past stories — these characters overlap, intersect with what’s come before — but you don’t need to know anything about the previous Brubaker/Phillips tales to get caught up in the noir drama here. It’s not exactly straightforward, what with the characters who speak in elliptical dialogue, and the layers of motivation and plot twists, but that’s the kind of stuff you’d want to see in a crime comic. And that’s what Brubaker and Phillips deliver.
Phillips and colorist Val Staples keep the hard edge to the visuals too, as every scene has the harsh lighting of the neon streets and the hour before sunset when the shadows are long, when everything has an air of menace. Nothing in this comic takes place in the bright daylight — it’s not that kind of story — and Phillips and Staples keep it visually interesting with the intersection of deep blacks, metallic greens, and sickly orange/pinks. It’s an expressive color palette, as always, and no other crime comic on the shelves looks quite as good as this one.
Plus, like every other issue of “Criminal,” you get a bonus essay — this time from Tom Piccirilli on “Korean Noir.” It’s a nice little extra, and the essays are always fun to read, but it’s just a decoration. The story by Brubaker and Phillips in “Criminal The Sinners” is the cake and the icing. Deliciously so.