Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bullets: CRIMINAL One-Shot & FADE OUT Trade Tomorrow, & More!

I've been re-reading "Lawless" in its new trade edition from Image, and it's been a real kick.  It had been far too long since I've read the book, and -- as with all the works by Brubaker and Phillips -- I catch something new every time.

The "fearful symmetry" was striking, but not just in how both Lawless boys had come to resemble their father -- especially Tracy, as "The Dead and the Dying" shows Teeg's unecessary brutality was driven by his own protective instincts.  There was also how Tracy had become both the hunter and the hunted, as he and his pursuer violently interrogated people simultaneously.

I continue to be awed with how intricate the plotting tends to be in each of these Criminal arcs, with no wasted moments, no obvious "plot hammering," and lots of irony in the juxtaposition of scense.  The world is set up very carefully before it all comes crashing down, but it all seems very effortless.  I don't think the comparisons are outlandish, between Criminal and Watchmen, and I think the former actually compares favorably in being less obviously overwrought.  The writing and the artwork almost seems impressionistic at times, so its elaborate structure sneaks up on the reader.

Since my neighborhood is seeing its first real snow days, now has been a great time to read "Lawless" with its cold, bleak setting, as hard and dangerous as the man returning to the city at Christmastime.

This is also the first time I've re-read the story as the father of young children.  Having first-hand experience of the natural and unconstrained joy of kids seeing their dad after a long day at the office, I'm even more repulsed at the simple evil of Teeg Lawless, striking terror in his sons.

But we have more to write about than the new reprint of an eight-year-old masterpiece.

The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on!

• CRIMINAL Special Edition, and THE FADE OUT TPB in Stores Tomorrow.  It will have been almost 3 and a half years since the last issue of "Last of the Innocent" -- 1,261 days to be exact -- but a new issue of Criminal is in stores tomorrow.

The Criminal Special Edition one-shot will be released in a standard edition and in a magazine-sized variant:  we hope you've already ordered your copy of the latter, and as we reported late last month, AV Club has posted a five-page preview of the comic.

Comicosity has an interview with Ed Brubaker, where he mentions the origins of this new story, a writer firend telling him of the popularity that a lot of adult comic magazines like Heavy Metal, Eerie, and Savage Sword of Conan enjoyed among prison populations.  Brubaker was entranced by the idea of an inmate reading a barbarian comic, and with the mid-1970s being "such a great era for neo-noir pulp," Teeg Lawless became the obvious choice for the character.

All-Comic.com has a Brubaker interview combined with an advance review, awarding the book 4 out of 5 stars.   With the series being reprinted by Image, the creators wanted to produce something like an annual to celebrate its return to stands, with a magazine-sized variant that they and readers really seem to enjoy.

We've also seen a very positive reaction (and a few new pages) in an advance review from Coming Up Comics.  We can't wait to read the first new Criminal story in ages, and one song has been running through my head all day...

...but that's not the only book out tomorrow.  In that second interview, Brubaker confirms that more from The Fade Out is on the horizon, and tomorrow sees the release of the first trade paperback, priced at $9.99 and featured in this week's "Trade Waiting" spotlight at Comicosity.

THE FADE OUT Featured in Image Firsts Compendium.  This leads us to Image Comics and its "Image Firsts" promotion to provide inexpensive introductions to their best and most popular creator-owned work.

It started in 2010 with one-dollar reprints of first issues, which we have seen for all of Ed Brubaker's work for Image:  Fatale and The Fade Out with Sean Phillips, and Velvet with Steve Epting.

The approach has expanded to include "Image Introduces... Volume Ones," first-volume trade paperbacks at $9.99, of which The Fade Out Volume 1 is only the newest example.

We're not sure how much it's been promoted, as we missed its February 11th release entirely, but the approach now includes a trade paperback of first issues, Image Firsts Compendium Volume 1.

The hefty book containing NINE first issues for the incredibly low price of $5.99, not much more than the typical single issue.
  • Wytches by Scott Snyder and Jock
  • Outcast by Kirkman & Azaceta by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta
  • Nailbiter by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson
  • Southern Bastards by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour
  • The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
  • The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
  • Low by Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini
  • Shutter by Joe Keatinge and Leila del Duca
  • C.O.W.L. by Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, and Rod Reis
In addition to Brubaker and Phillips' take on Hollywood's Gilded Age, the collection features their partner Bettie Breitweiser providing colors on Outcast.

I still think that The Fade Out stands out even among the best books on the shelf, but at less than 70 cents an issue, this trade paperback is impossible to pass up.

• Feature on Donald Westlake's Getaway Car.  Finally, one can draw a fairly straight line from Criminal to Hard Case Crime to my becoming a fan of the crime writers Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block.  One can't say enough about the former's Parker books, written under the pen name Richard Stark, available in prose or in Darwyn Cooke's award-winning comic adaptations, and the latter's non-fiction books on writing are must-reads even for the poor souls who don't like noir.

(Thanks to Block's email newsletter, I also discovered Jerrold Mundis' Break Writer's Block Now!  Block had been selling the book on "block" through his eBay store, I got a copy, and it's been a great help in my professional life.  It's funny how you can stumble across the most useful things.)

Westlake passed away on New Year's Eve, at the end of 2008, and this past September, the University of Chicago Press published The Getaway Car, an anthology of non-fiction work.  With a foreword by Block and cover art by Cooke, it's a great stand-alone book that also complements the trade paperback reprints of the Parker and Grofield novels that they've been releasing.

Toward the end of last year, Alan David Doane posted an extensive interview with the book's editor Levi Stahl, who lists his personal favorites, recommends a few works as entrees into Westlake's extensive bibliography, and praises Memory, Westlake's lost novel published by Hard Case Crime.

Between the Criminal one-shot and new trade for "Lawless," the new trade for The Fade Out, and a new issue of Chew (following up on the twisting ending of issue #45), there's a LOT to read this week, but the interview is worth your time.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"Lawless" Trade, Back In Stores Today!

Along with other sites, Image Comics' official site confirms today's re-release of "Lawless," the second volume of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Criminal.

This chapter introduces Tracy Lawless, who has been the main character in two arcs so far -- this arc and "The Sinners" -- and in the short story "emission" titled "No One Rides for Free."  This focused and violent man is so self-contained that the narration is in the third person, which is unusual for the series.

This chapter also clarifies the series' overall format:  each story focuses on a single character, but all the stories occur in a shared universe.

  • Leo has a cameo, letting us discover his fate from the end of "Coward.
  • Sebastian Hyde was referenced in that first story, and he makes his first appearance here.
  • We are introduced to the comic-strip creator Jacob, whose detective comic was introduced in Criminal #1 and who has the starring role in the fourth arc, "Bad Night."
  • And we first meet Tracy's monstrous father Teeg Lawless in flashback:  perhaps the linchpin character in the series, Teeg features in the next chapter, "The Dead and the Dying" and in the upcoming Special Edition one-shot, and his death was a crucial event in the back-story of "Coward."

This chapter also features a narrative device where there was a heist in every monthly issue.  The tension rises as Tracy Lawless becomes both the hunter and the quarry, returning to the criminal underworld to avenge the murder of his younger brother Ricky -- whose funeral was first referenced in the previous chapter, "Coward."


Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Bullets: New Velvet Out Today & The New Coward, Examined -- And More!

Velvet #9 Preview Online, in Stores Today.  It has been almost exactly three months today, but Ed Brubaker's other period piece returns today with Velvet #9.  The espionage comic from Brubaker and Steve Epting continues with the heroine breaking out the mysterious figure introduced at the end of the previous issue, and Comic Book Resources posted a three-page preview just a few hours ago.

The New Trade for "Coward," Compared, Contrasted, and Reviewed.  We've had a chance this week to examine Image's new edition of the trade paperback for "Coward," the first volume of Brubaker and Phillips' first creator-owned series, Criminal.  There are some noteworthy similarities and differences with the original trade published by Marvel's Icon imprint.

The most important similarity is the story:  examining a few pages closely, I believe the story's contents are identical in both trades,

[UPDATE:  I originally noted that the contents are identical, "including a possible coloring error and a few typos -- all extremely minor -- that have persisted since the original monthly issues."  A concerned reader asked for clarification, and these sort of things are NOT printing errors that should have fans think twice about purchasing the book:  they're things like an unusual shading choice on a small part of a single panel and an omitted hyphen, the latter of which I ONLY noticed in my umpteenth re-read just this week.  I've seen other books with bad printing errors, such as one of the original Gotham Central trades, with the dialogue missing from almost a full page, and it's quite rare to see a book as professionally presented as "Coward."]

Both trades are also fairly bare-bones releases.  I honestly think that Brubaker and Phillips' short "trailers" would add to the experience, but the story speaks for itself, and the hardcover deluxe volumes are excellent archives for such bonus material.

Obviously the two books have very different covers, with the new edition adding greater emphasis to the Criminal title and dropping the phrase about the book being "A Criminal Edition."  Ironically enough, the new cover art appears to be from the trailer's last panel rather than the actual story.

The cover is a sturdy, matte material rather than the glossy cover for the Icon edition.  Along with a revised synopsis, the back cover describes the title as the "most-acclaimed crime comic of the 21st century," being the winner of six Eisner and Harvey Awards.  There are also new blurbs from Brian K. Vaughan, Joe Hill, and Warren Ellis.

I believe the original trade was designed by Sean Phillips, and on the new edition's copyright page, we see Phillips credited for the publication design -- a new and simple design that draws our attention to the Criminal logo and to the credit for Val Staples as the colorist.

Also on the copyright page, careful readers will notice a slight change from the earlier edition.  Both versions attribute the trademarks to Brubaker and Phillips, but the copyright now belongs to Brubaker's Basement Gang Inc.

The new edition lacks two extras from the original -- the introduction by TV writer Tom Fontana and the concluding acknowledgements by Brubaker and Phillips.  The new edition makes up for this with an appendix of the wrap-around cover art for the original monthly issues, artwork that was noticeably missing from the old edition.

The new trade paperback isn't strictly necessary if you have the original trade or especially the deluxe hardcovers, but its release is a great excuse for re-reading "Coward."

After nearly a decade, the story still amazes me with its intricate plotting, intelligent characters, gut-wrenching tragedy, and moments of surprising comedy.  As with all of Brubaker and Phillips' work, the book rewards close, careful, repeat readings.

For what it's worth, we find that the story packs more of a punch because it focuses on a single character rather than a sprawling ensemble like in The Fade Out, and its naturalistic setting precludes the need for the world-building that we saw in Incognito and Fatale.

Re-reading the book for the first time in a few years, we feel quite justified in our belief that Criminal remains the pinnacle of the pair's career, the closest rivals for "Coward" as their single best work being most of the subsequent stories in this pure crime comic.

[UPDATE:  I noticed a couple things I missed after posting.]

Fatale Month at Comicosity.  Since Criminal isn't their only collaboration worth re-reading, the Comicosity Book Club is declaring this month Fatale February, reading a chapter or two each week and tweeting about the book using the hashtag #FataleClub -- should be worth reading, even if we had our own 30 Days of Fatale in the lead-in to the series' explosive conclusion.

• The Criminal Special Edition, Complete and Forthcoming.  Finally, it's worth noting that we're nearing the end of the long wait for the return of Criminal.  Yesterday Mitch Breitweiser announced that the book has just left the studio that he shares with colorist Bettie Breitweiser, and the British "bricks and mortar comic shop" Page 45 reports that they have read the issue.

The Special Edition and its magazine-sized variant will be in stores by the end of this month, and we can hardly wait.

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