Those of you who interact with me on a daily basis know that my affection for Ed Brubaker‘s Criminal series runs deep… too deep… like, suspiciously deep. All I can say is that I see it as a crown jewel in the realm of noir comics. Perhaps my infatuation stems from the fact that “Coward” was my first, and you never forget your first (that was more sexual than I intended). The best part about reading Brubaker is that you can tell that he is a huge noir crime fiction fan, and that he is as invested in his characters as you are. Perfectly counterpointing his creative narrative is the seedy pulpy art style of Sean Phillips. Seriously, this creative team could not be more elite. We are talking Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan style noir comics team up.
So, I’m settling into a bit of a tradition here on noirwhale.com: the first part of any series that I review will be held up to the noir definition as has been previously described. I believe this will give us a great foundation for evaluating any work in the noir genre.
1. The Seedy Underworld
Noir York City. Present day. Crooked cops, crooked schemes, and a pay day around the corner. Superb.
2. The Anti-Hero
Possibly the best character in any noir that I have read, Leo Patterson plays with the reader’s emotions because he is so dang likable. He takes care of his dead father’s best friend Ivan (an Alzheimer/Heroin addicted old man) with a tenderness that can only be described as familial. Also, he cares for each of the people he works with, and he won’t take chances with their lives. He isn’t a risk taker, and he follows his own code to a fault. Because of this, Leo has gained a reputation in the criminal underworld that is two-fold: Some say he is the best thief in the business and others say he is a coward.
“Prisons are full of assholes who valued their own lives only slightly more than other people’s. And I’m not ending up on death row because some moron listened to too much hip hop growing up.” -Leo Patterson a.k.a. “Coward”
3. The Femme Fatale
A dame what goes by the name of Greta is the femme fatale for this noir comic. While she plays the typical role of causing the anti-hero to compromise his code, she also becomes the catalyst for the new code which he adopts at the end of the trade (no spoilers this time). She also is always portrayed (and treated by Leo) as an equal, a confidant, and a partner, which is definitely a stretch for our noir definition. A revision required perhaps?
One of the most interesting aspects of this noir comic is its lack of traditional misogyny. Ivan, the demented old man that Leo cares for, is the only one who seems to show any disrespect for women. I think there is method in this because I believe that Brubaker wrote Ivan into the story as a representation of the “old-school” noir crime fiction, a time when women were objects instead of equals. Ivan represents a dying age, and his misogyny looks childish compared to the genuine respect and care for Greta displayed by Leo.
“Does what it take to survive change you — to the point where you are no longer who you are? To the point where, though your body survives, the deepest part of you — the human part– does not?” -Tom Fontana
Leo grew up in the world of noir crime. Back in the old days, his father Tommy and his “Uncle” Ivan ran the most successful pick-pocket crew in New York City. But now things are different, and Leo is struggling to come to grips with all of that. His father was shanked to death in prison, and Leo is terrified of ending up the same way. Ivan, Leo’s only living representation of that bygone era (and by extension his father), is a constant reminder of how things will never be the same. “Coward” is a classic story of a son striving to redeem his father by escaping his own seemingly predestined fate (Luke Skywalker).
I love this book. I love this series even more. READ IT! (I got my copy of “Coward” a Criminal Edition from Amazon.com) Also, check back with me the first Monday of June! I’ll be making a big announcement concerning “Coward”!