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Published on April 26th, 2016 | by Noel Thorne

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Criminal 10th Anniversary Special Review

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Ten years ago this October, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips launched what would become their signature series, Criminal. This week the team release the extra-long Criminal 10th Anniversary Special to celebrate this milestone featuring the recurring characters of the Lawless family. Oh, and a Kung Fu Werewolf too. Need I say that this is another home-run for Brubaker/Phillips?

When Criminal moved to Image last year they released a special issue, The Savage Sword of Criminal, which followed Teeg Lawless as he battled to survive behind bars interspersed with pages from an X-rated Conan the Barbarian-type comic he was reading. This issue picks up where that special ended with Teeg released from prison but still continuing his criminal lifestyle, this time with his son, Tracy, in tow. Now the story is told from Tracy’s perspective with pages from a pulpy ‘70s comic he’s reading – Deadly Hands featuring Fang the Kung Fu Werewolf! – mixed in.

It’s the summer of 1979 and the star of the second Criminal volume, Tracy Lawless, is a kid being dragged across the country by his violent and crazy father, Teeg. The issue opens with a gas station robbery/assault, instantly grabbing the reader’s attention, and we’re off! Though Teeg has a mission to accomplish (knock off a couple of chatty druggies), the issue is about Tracy’s sad childhood and the brief respite of happiness at being a kid that he gets when he meets Gabby, another lonely youngster, after the two become friends.

The Kung Fu Werewolf stuff is done in the melodramatic ‘70s comics style that the creative team are obviously enamoured with, probably because that’s the era the two grew up in. The story of Dane Draven, an awkward young man who transforms into the martial arts lycanthrope vigilante Fang eerily parallels Tracy’s life as he also hides a dark secret from Gabby: he and his father’s outlaw lifestyle. Brubaker effortlessly channels the cheesy narrative style, contrasting it with modern comics’ storytelling style and the grittier noir tone of Tracy’s story.

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Brubaker’s characterisation of Tracy is superb showing us how fast the kid’s had to grow up because of his dad and the effects that’s had on him: having to think quickly to save innocents from Teeg’s brutality, tamping down his emotions to stop from being hurt, the loneliness of his existence, and having to find ways to look after himself because no-one else will do it for him. It’s a heart-breaking story beautifully told as only a writer as talented as Ed Brubaker could write it.

Sean Phillips’ artwork is as accomplished as ever, though, as most of the story takes place during the daytime, he scales back the noir look for this issue. His characters’ facial expressions are unnervingly realistic while he effortlessly recreates the corny ‘70s-era look of those comics. Like in all of the Brubaker/Phillips titles she colours, Elizabeth Breitweiser’s work is first class, bringing 1979 to life on the page.

One of the great aspects of the Criminal series is that it can be read in any sequence so even if you’ve not read this title before you can pick up and enjoy the utterly compelling 10th Anniversary Special (though I also highly recommend checking out every Criminal book you can find!). This one’s a fittingly grim yet whacky celebration of this excellent series that fans will enjoy the most. It’s also a love letter to comics as a medium and their powerful and lasting impact on kids and the adults they become – It’d be criminal to miss this issue!

Thanks to Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips for 10 years of Criminal – here’s to many more!

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Publisher: Image

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Sean Phillips

Colourist: Elizabeth Breitweiser

Noel Thorne

Probably reading comics as you're reading this.

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