With their "Incognito" miniseries from Icon Comics, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are giving readers their take on what a modern day crime story would look like if it was melded with classic elements of the pulp magazines from the '30s and '40s. "Incognito" is almost concluded, but fans who enjoy Brubaker and Phillips' spin on crime don't need to worry. The duo's award-winning crime series "Criminal," also from Marvel's Icon imprint, returns soon with a new five-part storyline called "The Sinners." CBR News spoke with Brubaker about the story, which he said is a good jumping-on point for readers who just discovered his and Phillips' work through "Incognito."
Issue #1 of "Criminal: The Sinners" brings back former Special Forces soldier Tracy Lawless, the protagonist of a previous storyline titled "Lawless." "But everything new readers will need to know about Tracy is in our new first issue," Brubaker told CBR News. "He's my favorite character and he comes a lot from my own history of being a military brat and being raised around really tough and quiet military people."
In "Lawless," Tracy returned home after a twenty-year absence to avenge his little brother's murder. All didn't go as planned, though, and the answers about his brother's death ended up being more painful than satisfying, and the fallout from that story left Tracy in debt to the city's top crime boss. " Criminal: The Sinners" picks up about a year after those events.
"We get to see what Tracy's been up to and his working relationship with the city's top crime boss. Things are not going well," Brubaker explained. "On the first page of the new issue we learn that he's basically become the worst hitman in the world because he won't follow orders and doesn't want to kill anybody who doesn't deserve it. So he's a giant pain in the ass, but this crime boss still likes him for some reason.
"That's the position he's in and the premise of the story is that something weird is going on in town. Guys who are connected and big time drug kingpins, people you'd usually need to get permission to fuck with, are being whacked. Nobody in town knows what's going on. No one knows who is supposedly ordering these hits and it's unknown if a new crew is trying to move in, but made men are dying. So Tracy's boss basically says to him, 'You're useless to me as an assassin, so why don't you find out what's going on in my town?' So he's basically sent out to solve this mystery and it plunges him through the entire underworld of the city."
Tracy's quest to find the mysterious killer is a story that is as much about the city he lives and works in as it is about him. "With 'The Sinners' there's a bit of the procedural element but we're also painting this larger picture of the city, which we've just seen brief glimpses of. There are more characters in this story than we've had in any one 'Criminal' arc. It's a much more sprawling ensemble type story," Brubaker explained. "Over the course of the first four 'Criminal' stories, we've met a lot of the different crime aspects in the city. Most recently in 'Bad Night' we saw the Triads in Chinatown. This is the first story where you get to see all of those things come together in one big mystery story."
"With each of these stories I'm trying to top myself and push myself in different directions," Brubaker continued. "The challenge with this story was to do something that's still about Tracy and his journey in the same way 'Lawless' was, but the stuff he's encountering is a lot more of what's going on in America right now with crime rates going through the roof and things like that. 'The Sinners' fleshes out the world these people live in and shows that it's not really different from our own."
Tracy's investigation in "Criminal: The Sinners" will also lead to some encounters with a number of faces familiar to "Criminal" fans. Brubaker confirmed, "We'll get to see Chester again; readers first met him at the end of 'Lawless.' He's the right hand man of Tracy's boss, Sebastian Hyde. We'll also get to see Gnarly again and what's going on with his bar the Undertow, which we haven't seen for a few story arcs. So we're delving back into the world, but as with all the 'Criminal' stories, if you haven't read the others there won't be spoilage. You can grab 'The Sinners' and just start from there and hopefully it will be the kind of thing where if you've read all the 'Criminal' stories you'll find Easters eggs here and there."
Fans of "Criminal" and "Incognito" may feel like they know what to expect from artist Sean Phillips' work on "The Sinners," but Brubaker thinks they'll be pleasantly surprised. "I think Sean is doing his best work ever. He's really upped his game," the writer stated. "Sean was more than ready to go back to drawing 'Criminal,' especially after the final issue of 'Incognito,' which had so much action. I think after drawing pages of people being punched through walls he was ready to go back to drawing guys in alleyways with guns."
"Criminal" readers know that Brubaker and Phillips' story isn't the Icon book's only draw. Each issue is full of extra features, like essays and interviews for fans of crime and noir. Brubaker has already lined up several of these materials for " Criminal: The Sinners." "We've got an interview with Darwyn Cooke about his Parker graphic novel. Duane Swierczynski is working on an article for an upcoming issue, and I'm going back to all my crime writer friends and hitting them up for articles again," Brubaker confirmed. "So we'll definitely keep the extras going. They have become almost as popular as the comics part."
"Criminal: The Sinners" marks the beginning of a new publishing model for the series. Instead of an ongoing series with continuous numbering, the book will now operate similar to "Hellboy" in that it will become an ongoing series of miniseries. "The idea is we'll do 'Criminal' and then another project, the next one being a follow up to 'Incognito.' Then we'll do another 'Criminal' story and after that something else," Brubaker explained. "That way we can keep changing things up. Doing different projects helps revitalize us, and keep us excited about bring good stories to our readers. I always joke that our books are like public radio, in that we're reader-supported, but it really is true. So we always want to make sure we're giving our all to the people who are making our collaborations possible."
"Criminal: The Sinners" #1 goes on sale September 30 from Icon Comics.