Picking up immediately where we left off last issue, Teeg Lawless is amazed to discover he isn't dead, despite being point-blanked with a shotgun...
The race is on. Jane has been kidnapped... and not only that, they have Teeg's cut of the robbery loot, too! This is it, folks - the grim conclusion to the saga of Teeg Lawless, whose impending death has loomed over Criminal from the very beginning!
***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!***
Full disclosure: I completely misread the end of Criminal #11, because the logo-free cover for this issue (see above) appeared to be part of the story, leading me to believe ol’ Teeg had bit the dust. Not so! (Also, see above.) But that doesn’t mean he’s in the clear. No, from the very start, Teeg’s impending death has not only loomed over this volume of Criminal, but in fact has cast a shadow over the book from the very beginning. Who killed Teeg? And how, and why? His death affected so many disparate characters featured in the book’s various arcs, yet it’s never been fully addressed until now. And once it happens, so many things click into place, that for all intents and purposes, Criminal could come to an end and everything would be concluded in a satisfactory, full-circle manner.
That won’t be the case, of course. There have been plenty of stand-alone tales through this comic’s existence to prove that the Teeg through-line need not be a part of the narrative for Criminal to consistently be one of the finest books on the shelves. Criminal is an aesthetic experience first and foremost, a tour de force in sequential storytelling that relies on mood and pacing just as much as it does its various seedy and/or desperate myriad characters. It’s with a heavy heart, then, that issue twelve marks the end of this volume, allowing master class storytellers Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips to pursue other projects while the next Criminal cycle gestates.
There’s so much going on this issue beneath the surface. After a lifetime of thinking of no one but himself, Teeg has finally found something akin to love in fellow criminal and co-conspirator Jane, and knowing that she’s been kidnapped by a stalker elicits a response from him that he’s never felt before: a desperation to protect and save her. (Of course, his cut of the robbery score is also in the car with Jane, so that’s a factor too. Our boy Teeg isn’t completely altruistic all of a sudden.) Giving chase, Teeg can only watch in horror as the car with Jane in it grinds to a horrific crash, taking all his hopes and dreams for the future with her in a twisted corpse of broken metal, glass, and flesh.
It’s a sickening scene, made all the worse by the lack of sound effects or dialogue. The crash unfolds in slow motion, and without seeing any bodies, we know exactly what’s happened. The end is inevitable, and all of Teeg’s dreams flutter away like the cash from his score dispersing in the breeze. There are no words because the scene speaks for itself. Sean Phillips takes what could have been a by-the-numbers sequence and makes it as stark and terrifying to read as it would be to witness in real life.
And then, Teeg is a shadow of himself. Wracked with survivor’s guilt, he can’t cope with the fact that Jane is dead and he isn’t. Thematically, this ties into last issue’s brief sequence where Teeg imagines a life where he and son Ricky are bonding like a healthy and happy father and son over a wrestling match; here, Teeg can’t let go of the peaceful future he’d envisioned alongside Jane, sipping drinks on a beach somewhere and leaving his violent past behind. It’s a vision he can’t let go of, because without it, he has no meaningful future and he knows it.
It’s a powerful moment, one that comes crashing down when Ricky, guilt-ridden that in pointing the maniacal stalker in Jane’s direction, he inadvertently caused her death. And then, the old Teeg is back, more Teeg than ever before: violent, vindictive, and merciless. Even toward his own son. And in that moment, his fate is sealed.
The theme of small men with big dreams is a standard trope of crime fiction, and one that Brubaker and Phillips have consistently put to great use throughout Criminal. “Cruel Summer” has been, in the end, about what happens after those big dreams fall apart. It’s been a beautiful, near-flawless opus from start to finish, a high water mark not just for the crime genre but for comics in general. Simply put, comics don’t get any better than Criminal. And it may be going into hibernation for a time once more, but its echoes stretch for miles. The saga of Teeg Lawless may finally have come to an end, but as long as there are little men with big schemes, there will always be more tales to tell in Criminal.
"Cruel Summer" comes to a stark, gut-wrenching conclusion, bringing the current volume of Criminal to a close and with it, many of the book's over-arching subplots. A master class in sequential storytelling, it's almost a cliche to say about this book at this point that comic's don't get any better than this.
Criminal #12: All Good Things Must Come to an End
Writing - 10/1010/10
Storyline - 10/1010/10
Art - 10/1010/10
Color - 10/1010/10
Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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