Leo is a skilled pickpocket, an excellent thief and celebrated heist-planner. A criminal prodigy. He’s also been very successful at staying under the radar of law enforcement. That’s because Leo has an edge. Leo has rules, rules that keep him safe and out of prison. No guns. No working with crooked cops, drug addicts or other unreliable characters. And he won’t work on any score that he doesn’t call the shots on.
Also -when things go bad, Leo is very good at getting out. He runs. Leo is a coward…
Seymour, an old colleague, comes to Leo with a big job. Steal millions in blood diamonds from an evidence van on the way to court and get set for life. Only problem is that Seymour is a gambler. He takes more risks than Leo can stomach. And Seymour’s partner in this heist is a corrupt cop named Jeff.
Smells like trouble. Under pressure from Seymour and his partner. In need of money to look after his Alzheimer suffering and drug addicted adoptive father Ivan. And haunted by the widow of a man who died on his last robbery. Leo accepts.
And then he finds himself in a whole lot of pain. Breaking every rule that has kept him safe. When all goes to pieces will Leo run? What is he really running from? Is he the coward that everyone thinks …or is he something very very different?
Criminal: Coward by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is the first in the Criminal series of noir crime fiction by an amazing and award winning creative team. If you love a good noire crime thriller, read on…
Meet Leo. Professional Thief, Heist Virtuoso and Coward
Leo is a smart man. He’s also damaged. Growing up his father Tommy and Uncle Ivan ran the best pickpocket outfit the city had ever seen. Then Tommy got sent away for killing a man who had it coming. And this is where Leo’s fear began.
He does not want to end up like his dad. Uncle Ivan taught him how to stay out of system. How to avoid drawing the attention of the cops and other lawmen. Then Ivan lost himself in drugs.
Leo really doesn’t want to do the diamond job Seymour got planned. A couple of years ago, Leo was on a job run by Seymour. It went bad. People died. Leo doesn’t blame Seymour, but he knows that he can’t work with someone who takes too many risks.
Thing is Leo needs money. Ivan is losing his battle with Alzheimer. The old man is still using. Trying to get someone who keeps forgetting off drugs seem impossible and cruel. He needs round the clock care.
And then there is Greta… the Wife of one of the men who died on Seymour’s last job.
Seymour gets Greta to hound and guild Leo into doing the diamond job. She pitches up at his home and throws a tantrum. She has a little daughter, a dead husband and needs the money. When Leo points out that he doesn’t work with junkies, she claims to be sober. He tells her nobody ever really kicks the junk. She tells him it’s true what they say about Lee. He’s a coward.
The Setup –Why Leo Has Rules…
With a lot on his mind Leo heads to the Undertow. A local bar that has a long history as a safe haven for criminals. A place where bitter enemies can drink together in peace. Leo asks Gnarly the bar tender if he has seen Donnie the ‘Spaz’. Donnie is an epileptic who makes his living faking seizures on the city trains to conn good Samaritans out of their money. Leo goes off in search of Donnie.
Leo recruits Donnie. The score is on.
When Seymour and Jeff hear about this –Jeff calls a shadowy man who is clearly up to no good. Looks like the job is about much more than Leo knows or suspects. Leo and crew are playing for their lives. They just don’t know it yet.
Will Leo get out of this one? Is he really a coward? And what is this heist really about? Read Criminal: Coward to find out!
The Writing and Art of Criminal: Coward
Ed Brubaker proved his chops on Marvel’s Daredevil and has the Harvey Award for his work.
So you can have certain expectations when you read anything from him. I expected a dark, thrilling crime story and wasn’t disappointed.
Brubaker has a tight grip on the various characters that inhabit the Criminal universe. It’s classic noire fiction.
Leo isn’t a good guy. He’s a thief. A thief with rules. And you see how he struggles to reconcile these with his situation.
There is old Ivan. A junkie but a master at his craft. He is Leo’s link to the past and father figure. A now helpless father figure that needs round the clock care and watching.
There is Greta. Beautiful, widowed, off drugs and desperate. Desperate to create a better life for her daughter the only way she knows how. Through crime.
The dialogue is awesome. Every character sounds unique. It’s gritty and dark. The language of the streets.
In terms of plot you might think that the whole ‘heist-involving-a-crooked-cop’ has been done to death but Brubaker manages to pull it off.
His writing remind me of a meaner, more philosophical and modern Raymond Chandler. Suspenseful and engaging crime fiction, with the occasional (realistic) bit of brutality, blood and violence. Just like crime.
Sean Phillips art is beautiful. He can go from a very gritty and shadowy style to painting like beauty like the cover below with ease.
The world of Criminal is one of shadows and darkness. And Phillips is a master of using both for cinematic effect. His scenes feel like they are out of a movie or big budget TV drama.
At one point I forgot that I was reading a graphic novel and felt like I was watching a crime thriller. The kind Hollywood wouldn’t shoot.
There are no super powered villains in this story. No psychopathic clowns with skin conditions. Or supernatural horrors from other dimensions. This is noire crime fiction at its purest form. The protagonist is not a victim. He’s a bad man fighting people worse than him.
Criminal: Coward is an awesome story about crime, betrayal, human nature and weaknesses. Can we truly ever outrun who and what we are? What we are capable of?
This isn’t a story for kids. R-18 most definitely. But it doesn’t go out of its way to be gory, graphic or shocking for the sake of being shocking.
It does deal with the criminal underbelly of society so expect violence, brutality, drug use, profanity and sex.
A must read for any fan of crime fiction. Criminal: Coward is a great introduction to Ed Brubaker’s writing and the gorgeous art of Sean Phillips. If ever there was a creative team built for noire crime fiction, Brubaker and Phillips are it!
Get this one for your library, most definitely a must read graphic novel and worthy addition to your collection.