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Graphic Novel Review: Criminal: The Sinners by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips smash another homerun with Criminal: The Sinners. The writer and artist turn their attention back to Tracy Lawless, arguably their fans’ favorite character in the series, and definitely my personal favorite.

I love Tracy. He’s a damaged soul, a war hero turned vigilante after tracking down the murderers of his brother. This graphic novel opens up a year after Tracy has finished avenging his brother and has taken on his brother’s debt to Sebastian Hyde, one of the bloodiest criminals in the city.

With his background as a military soldier in special ops, becoming a hit man for Hyde seemed like a natural thing and a good fit for Tracy. It wasn’t, and that is where the problems start to occur. I liked the friction between Tracy and Hyde because it feels so right. Hyde would want to use Tracy for everything he could, but Tracy is a guy used to fighting for some kind of idea, and not waging war on innocents.

As always, Brubaker and Phillips throw in plenty of violence and dark streets. Throughout the history of the series so far, the city has started growing and taking in a character of its own. I like the neighborhoods the usual group of suspects that hang around in the shadows.

I enjoyed the twist where Tracy gets a lateral promotion from hitman to gumshoe in Hyde’s organization. Hyde’s paranoia that someone else is edging into the city causes a lot of tension that rolls down onto Tracy.

Adding to the mix is Sabrina, Sebastian Hyde’s wayward daughter. Her entrance onstage sets up a lot of problems to come. The fact that Tracy is also sleeping with his employer’s wife adds more danger.

The set up for the string of murders is well done, and I couldn’t guess what was going on for certain until Brubaker lifts the curtain and reveals the killers. Even then I wasn’t quite certain about what was going on.

Brubaker is also fond of throwing in an oddball character and subplot, and that’s exactly what he does with Army CID investigator Yocum, who’s searching for Tracy after he deserted the military. I’m wondering if Yocum is going to figure into any more Brubaker stories because I really liked the character.

The story Brubaker spins out about Evan is wonderfully heartbreaking. The kid steps onto stage and brings a lot of emotion to the mix.

Story and character, plot and counterplot, all whiz through in a dizzying mix of violence and death. Brubaker’s eye for the corruption of man cuts as deeply as swallowing a mouthful of broken razor blades. Nobody does crime fiction like this in comics.

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