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Graphic Novel Review – Criminal Vol. 1 (Coward) by Ed Brubaker

By May 25, 2022June 3rd, 2023No Comments


“Revenge. That’s what he had come for… But it didn’t really exist, did it?
Just empty regret and bitter heartbreak, wandering the streets.
The city around him, white and grey and cold, felt suddenly so small.
Hyde had been right about family, there was no escaping it…
Even when there was no one left to run from.” 
― Ed Brubaker, Criminal, Vol. 2: Lawless


From Harvey Award-Winning Best Writer Ed Brubaker, and Scream Award-Winning Best Artist Sean Phillips comes the first collection of Criminal, one of the best reviewed comics of 2006. Coward is the story of Leo, a professional pickpocket who is also a legendary heist-planner and thief. But there’s a catch with Leo, he won’t work any job that he doesn’t call all the shots on, he won’t allow guns, and the minute things turn south, he’s looking for any exit that won’t land him in prison. But when he’s lured into a risky heist, all his rules go out the window, and he ends up on the run from the cops and the bad men who double-crossed him. Now Leo must come face-to-face with the violence he’s kept bottled up inside for 20 years, and nothing will ever be the same for him again. Collects Criminal #1-5.

My Thoughts

Criminal Vol. 1There are some things you need to know before starting this series:

  1. This graphic novel is straight-up crime noir. There are no superheroes, magic, aliens, or mystical forces. What there is though, is dark searing dialog, blood, violence, and language.
  2. This is a very adult comic. Adult themes and imagery. The story is designed to haunt the reader. To sear some of the images on the frontal lobe.
  3. The protagonist of volume 1, and from what I understand continuing volumes throughout the series are anti-heroes.
  4. Each of the volumes is a different story arc all taking place in the same world.

Knowing all this if you want to continue into this world, it is quite a ride. The premise revolves around the protagonist, Leo Patterson. A former heist strategist who has left the life of crime to take care of Ivan, an old family friend. Ivan is addicted to heroin and has Alzheimer’s. At Ivan’s age, breaking heroin addiction becomes untenable so Leo provides palliative care to Ivan.  Leo agrees to the heist against his better Judgement, swayed by an attraction to recovering heroin addict Greta. From there, the story progresses through a series of backstabbing and double-crossing that leave various people dead.

The title of the book is coward. This is ironic because Leo is anything but. His cautiousness and reservedness at the beginning of the story lead other criminals into thinking that he is weak, “he doesn’t just walk away from trouble, he runs.” What people don’t understand, and the reader soon finds out is that caution does not necessarily mean forceless. It could mean that you are thoughtful and very, very smart. Like in the case of Leo. He is pushed to the breaking point and becomes a force of nature abandoning all pretense of cowardness and serving up a side of badass on his betrayers. The bold and brazen end up dead or in jail while the cautious and calculating walk away with the money.

Criminal Vol. 1Brubaker is the king of crime noir in graphic novels. A genre much changed since the 1950s. In Criminal Vol. 1, Brubaker sticks to familiar themes, but he serves them up bruised, foreboding, and dark. Although “Coward” could be a standalone series, minor characters in this arc play much larger roles in other character arcs. It is really fun to dissect the minor details of the story when you go back and flip through. Pay attention because there are many offhanded comments in this story that play a larger part in others. This is just good storytelling plain and simple. The dialog, story, and graphics are top notch and it is absolutely worth the journey of discovery. I look forward to checking out the next story arc in “Lawless.”









Read Criminal Vol. 1 (Coward) by Ed Brubaker

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