Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Criminal, Volume 7: Wrong Place, Wrong Time Review (Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips)

Five years after Volume 6: The Last of the Innocent, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ award-winning signature series Criminal is finally back with Volume 7: Wrong Place, Wrong Time! The book collects the two Criminal one-shot specials: last year’s The Savage Sword of Criminal, which celebrated Criminal’s move from Marvel’s Icon imprint to Image Comics, and last April’s special that celebrated Criminal’s 10th Anniversary this year. Both comics are superb too making this volume arguably the best in the series so far. 

The Savage Sword of Criminal is set in 1976 where Teeg Lawless is in the slammer for a month, planning on keeping his head down and doing his time - except someone’s put a hit out on him and the inmates are lining up to collect! The 10th Anniversary special is set in 1979 where Teeg takes his 12 year old son Tracy on a ride-along to the countryside while he looks for someone who’s screwed him over. 

Those stories alone are fantastic - brutal, dark, violent and gripping, the kind of gritty crime stories you’d expect from Criminal - but Brubaker/Phillips throw in an unexpectedly playful element: homages to corny ‘70s genre comics! The Savage Sword of Criminal is so-called because of the Conan the Barbarian-type comic which intersperses Teeg’s desperate survival story, and the 10th Anniversary special has pages from Kung Fu Werewolf, the story of ordinary student Dane Draven who transforms into a Kung Fu Werewolf vigilante at a full moon! 

Brubaker and Phillips write/draw these sections in a knowingly cheesy ‘70s style which they’re clearly fans of, having grown up in the ‘70s, and they’re definitely fun and unusual additions to a very grounded series like Criminal. But the stories of Zangar the Savage and Fang the Kung Fu Werewolf also uncannily mirror those of Teeg and Tracy, cleverly reinforcing the themes while also providing an eye-catching angle to prospective readers. It’s an inspired approach by the creators who beautifully execute the different styles.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book from the action-packed viciousness of Teeg’s story to the more thoughtful and tender perspective of young Tracy who makes his first friend. Brubaker and Phillips are both on top form producing some of their best work here and, coupled with Elizabeth Breitweiser’s colours, Wrong Place, Wrong Time is easily one of their finest collaborations to date. Fans of this series won’t need any prompting but I’d recommend this to everyone who likes comics - quality like this will appeal to anyone. Criminal’s back and it’s better than ever!

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