Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be looking at four writer/artist duos, as voted on by you, the readers! This week features Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips! Today’s page is from Criminal #1, which was published by Marvel/Icon and is cover dated October 2006. Enjoy!
The first page of Brubaker and Phillips’ Criminal looks … somehow familiar. Let’s see … a dude narrating about things going wrong … bad guys doing bad things while wearing masks … the cops arriving outside … what could it be? Well, of course, it’s very similar to the post from two days ago, in which we came upon Holden Carver at the end of something bad. Here, Leo begins the story in the middle of a bank robbery that is about to go horribly wrong. Leo is setting up a long soliloquy about sticking to rules when you pull a job, and that allows him to keep his nose clean (the three thieves in the bank with him are about to die). Much like Holden’s narration at the beginning of Sleeper #1, it’s more about establishing a mood than giving us a lot of information, although Leo does name-check Ivan, who shows up later in the story, so there’s that. Brubaker wants to get to the very good line “Hearing death in the voices of the men he was working with” that ends the page and leads onto Page 2, and he does a nice job with that. As we read this page, we get that the book is about a criminal (the title might give that away, of course) and how close to the edge these kind of men are. We’ll get a lot more about Leo and his life, but right now, Brubaker establishes a nice tone of the comic.
I’m not a huge fan of the wasted panel to begin the story (Phillips does it again when the “prologue” is over), but I suppose it’s not the most awful thing in the world. Like many writer/artists, Brubillips syncs up a narration that has nothing to do with the events drawn on the page so that they fit each other, and they do it well. When Leo is narrating about things falling apart, Phillips gives us an initial panel of Leo raising his mask and looking upset. He’s positioned to the right of the panel and is looking back to the left, leading us toward Panel 3. Phillips gives him a harried look, and the heavy inks place his face deep in the shadows, already implying the morally gray world Leo inhabits. In Panel 3, when Leo is reminiscing about the “big jobs,” we see a “big job” in progress. Everything in the panel points us toward Leo on the right border, as our eyes go from the thief in the background to the two in the foreground, with their rifles pointing to the right. The last thing we see on the page is Leo, hiding behind the wall. When the “plans” are “going off the rails,” the bank robbery is doing the same, as the cops arrive outside. In Panel 5, Leo is kicking the door open as Brubaker gets to his big line. Phillips draws the panel so that it’s slanted to the right, leading us off the page on onto the second one. It’s a well-designed page, giving Brubaker a chance to set the mood and Phillips a chance to establish Leo’s character. The story arc is called “Coward” (it’s only called that when it gets a trade paperback, actually, and not in this issue) because Leo is a coward, and even if we don’t know that, we don’t need Brubaker telling it to us, because Phillips does a nice job showing that Leo is someone who looks after himself first. Notice also that his inking in Panels 3 and 4 is much lighter than when he focuses on Leo – in both Panel 2 and Panel 5, Leo is inked much more darkly. As we’re looking at the evolution of Phillips’ work, we can see that his police lights are a bit more ragged on this page than they were three years earlier in Sleeper #1. Phillips ain’t care about joining the lines! You’ll also notice that Val Staples makes the area that Leo inhabits darker than the rest of the page – in Panel 2, it doesn’t really matter, but in Panel 5, instead of the gauzy yellow of Panels 3 and 4, we get a dull gray when Leo pushes the door open. It’s an interesting contrast, again pointing out Leo’s somewhat murky moral compass. Staples also makes the police lights glow a bit more than Aviña did in that first issue we saw two days ago – I imagine the technology was available in 2003, or maybe it wasn’t. Either way, it gives this book a more professional-looking sheen to it than Sleeper had. TECHNOLOGY!!!!!
We’ll see some more Criminal, don’t you fret. Will it be tomorrow? Possibly. Only tomorrow can say!!!! (Well, and I can, because I do these in advance, but I’m not telling!) Ease your mind by checking out the archives!