Reading any issue of “Criminal” feels like a guilty pleasure. Maybe it’s because I know that as soon as a collected edition is released, I’ll buy and read it. So with each individual issue, it’s like it’s 3 a.m. and I’m sneaking down to peek at presents under the Christmas tree before the rest of my family wakes up. The presents are mine, but it somehow feels cheating to take an advance look at what I’ll be given a few hours later.
Of course, the one downside to all of this anticipation for a new issue of “Criminal” is that sometimes the story might get a little too built up in my head. So when I got to the end of “Criminal: The Sinners” #4, my first thought was, “That’s it?” But about half an hour later, when I read it a second time that disappointment wasn’t there. Rather, I recognized that for a brief, rare moment, “Criminal: The Sinners” had gone exactly as I’d suspected. And with anything in “Criminal,” that’s an odd feeling.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good comic. As the second-to-last installment in “The Sinners,” it’s time for all of the pieces to fall into place. Normally, that’s when the reader gets to discover what’s going on alongside the protagonist. In the case of “Criminal: The Sinners,” though, Brubaker hasn’t been afraid to shift the focus off of Tracy Lawless from time to time, show us what else is happening in this story. So we already found out who the killers were, and by this point we’ve been able to piece together their motives and how they’re managing to take out Mr. Hyde’s men. With Tracy still clueless, though, Ed Brubaker had to let his character in on the truth. The reveal is still there, it’s just that we had it a little earlier than the rest of the characters for a change.
And while there’s still some additional bits to come that hold great promise (what the heck is going to happen to Tracy when the dust settles is a question with so many possible answers I wouldn’t dare guess), getting the full scoop in this “Criminal” story a little earlier than normal feels almost like a letdown. Sometimes, having a story unfold exactly like you think it will (even for just a few minutes) is a little bittersweet. You appreciate it later, but wish that somehow you’d still been surprised.
Sean Phillips and Val Staples continue to deliver the goods here. Center City is as grimy as ever, and Phillips has such wonderful expressions on the faces of his characters that it’s hard to not chuckle on occasion. It’s also nice to see a section of the city that we don’t visit quite as often; Center City’s Chinatown is full of crowds and neon, Phillips trying to make it still look like the same city but at the same time its own neighborhood. It’s a nice touch.
Is “Criminal: The Sinners” #4 a good comic? Definitely. Is it better than most comics being published right now? Absolutely. When you’re a series where your average issues are still a solid 4-star book, it’s a nice reminder that even when you aren’t blown away, you’re still getting a great comic.