THIS IS IT... the score of Teeg Lawless' life is in his sights. But he can't quite shake the feeling in the pit of his stomach...
But it doesn't matter. The reward is too high on this job...
What could possibly go wrong?
***WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! DON’T SAY YOU WEREN’T WARNED!***
Folks, if you haven’t figured out yet that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are the Claremont and Byrne, the Lee and Kirby, the O’Neal and Adams of modern day crime fiction, I don’t know what to tell you other than why are you even reading comics?
Every project this duo touches is pure gold, and the gold standard among even their pure gold is Criminal. Since its inception in 2006, this series-of-miniseries has proven time and again that the secret ingredient (aside from crime) is a creative team that is 100% in lockstep. By now, the Brubaker/Phillips combo is such a well-oiled machine that it would be a shock if something they produced wasn’t an instant classic.
After a lengthy hiatus, Criminal returned in its full glory last year as – for the first time ever – an ongoing series that would unlast reveal the death of one Teeg Lawless, father of two of the series other protagonists whose death sent sent ripples that resonated into every corner of these seemingly unconnected corners of criminality for years to come. Although Teeg has been featured as a supporting player in flashback stories, he’s never truly had the spotlight until now. He’s a vicious, selfish, mean-spirited man who – like nearly all the small-minded would-be criminal masterminds Brubaker so superbly specializes in illustrating – truly believes his lifestyle will never catch up with him. He, above all others, is too smart to get caught.
And after years of waiting, “Cruel Summer” finally reveals the moment everything did in fact catch up to him… but not in the way readers have been lead to believe it would.
To say the payoff in this issue is a shock would be an understatement. Brubaker wisely hasn’t revealed what Teeg’s big score was until this issue, waiting until the last moment possible. Readers have known Teeg’s death was imminent – hell, even if they hadn’t read any previous Criminal arcs, it’s right there at the end of issue one – but that doesn’t make the end of this issue any less shocking. Especially after… nah. That would be telling.
But, yes, to issue a non-spoiler spoiler: Teeg dies this issue. It’s brutal, it’s swift, and it’s completely unexpected. The supposed master criminal seemed to have thought of everything, and then was caught unaware by something he couldn’t have possibly anticipated: a jealous ex-lover of his girlfriend Jane. With but a moment’s notice, he sees the window in his motel room cracked ever so slightly – then readers turn the page and BAM! it’s lights out for ol’ Teeg. Farewell, sweet prince.
Except there was nothing sweet at all about Teeg. He drank too much, he stole, he killed, he ruthlessly beat his kid. But there have been moments – fleeting, but no less tangible because of it – where Teeg’s humanity has shown through, and readers have seen a glimpse of the decent person he might have been, if he’d made just a few different choices. This issue, for example, Brubaker has Teeg wistfully imagine going to amateur wrestling matches with his son Ricky, and for just the briefest moment, we see that part of him really does want to be a good father. But that moment passes just as quickly as it was conceived, and Teeg embarks on a masked robbery and kills a man without any hesitation, bringing readers back to the reality of who this man ultimately is.
The heist itself is relatively simple; almost too much so, and that in and of itself unnerves Teeg into making a critical error in judgement that, spurred by paranoia, leads to cold-blooded murder. But no one in Teeg’s gang seems all that surprised by his actions, or at the very least, they aren’t unnerved by them. They all know who Teeg Lawless is.
The only person who seems to both see Teeg for who he is but also realize the tiny shred of decency within him is Jane, femme fatale with a heart of gold. Jane doesn’t factor too strongly into this particular issue. But in the end, she’s indirectly the reason for Teeg’s demise – a sticky end to a desperate, angry man who dared, even briefly, to believe he could fall in something akin to love. Jane’s presence resonates in every panel of “Cruel Summer” even when she’s not actively involved in the scene at hand. It’s a master class not just in sequential art storytelling, but storytelling, period.
Where would Brubaker be without Sean Phillips in this criminal enterprise? A lot poorer, that’s for certain. Phillips’ style, forged during the halcyon post-2000 days at Wildstorm and nearly perfected in the original Marvel Zombies miniseries, is quite simply irreplaceable. His style, deceptively simple but hiding in plain sight a world of depth, emotion, and mood, could not be a more perfect fit to the gloomy world of Criminal. He can pivot on the spot, too – he manages to sell the shift in Teeg’s mindset when he transitions from imagining a better life with his son to anxiously ranting about how the plan was a set-up. That’s not easy; it involves not only a mastery of subtle facial expressions but also body language and posture as well. It takes a master illustrator to pull that off; the fact that Phillips both inks and letters his own work puts him in a class all of his own. And the fact that Jacob Phillips’s muted hues complement the art so well is the icing on an already embarrassingly-rich cake.
Criminal's most mythologized bad guy finally meets the end readers all knew he had coming, and despite that, issue eleven of this series still manages to pack a wallop. Quite easily one of the finest comics being published today.
Criminal #11; The Last Score
Writing - 10/1010/10
Storyline - 8/108/10
Art - 9.5/109.5/10
Color - 9/109/10
Cover Art - 9/109/10
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