Book Club / It’s Not Really About Anything Apart From Itself

CowardCriminal Volume 1: Coward
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips




Ok. This is how I see it. 

In the early 90s Frank Miller launched Sin City. A hard-bitten anthology of books detailing stories full of Booze, Broads, & Bullets. Incredibly stylized in brutal black and white it was like someone threw a brick through the window of American comic books whilst screaming “LOOK AT WHAT YOU CAN DO!” 

And then over 10 years later (in 2006) came Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Where they took all of the danger and excitement and wildness of Sin City and… dialed it all the way back into something much safer and tame and more traditional. Basically it’s the swing from Nirvana to Nickelback. From tequila to tap water. 

Ed Brubaker is of course a big name in terms of modern comic book writers. And I’ve never quite understood the reasons why. If I was going to sum up his approach in one word then that word would be – “functional.” His scripts are always…. ok. Like the kind of thing you’d watch on TV on a rainy afternoon because nothing else is on. And then as soon as it’s over – it evaporates from your mind. His books never really have anything to say. They don’t have a point of view. They never really try anything too crazy or weird. They just kinda… sit there. Circling through characters and cliches that are all too bland to leave much of an impression. I started rereading Coward for the sake of writing this thing and even tho I’ve read it before many moons ago the whole story was new to me. Nothing about it felt familiar. And even now I’m struggling to think of any moments that made a mark. There’s a guy and… he’s a coward? And erm – I think that’s pretty much it. And (so far at least) it’s not really about anything apart from itself. There’s no sense of wilder resonance. It’s not doing anything cool with the medium. It’s just like… reading a storyboard for a low budget movie that’ll probably never get made. Or you know to put it another way – what’s the point?

(One of the things that Ed Brubaker fans like to point out is that Criminal volume where the flashbacks look like a Archie / Charlie Brown kinda thing which yeah ok is a good idea: but then GAH it doesn’t really do anything with it. It just sits there feeling satisfied with itself for having one good idea – as opposed to pushing that idea further to see what else it could do: which I feel like is the problem that I have with his work in general… It just kinda sits there and doesn’t do much else). 

That being said – I mean: Sean Phillips is the guy doing the art. And I will always have a lot of time for Sean Phillips because well – his artwork makes me feel all tingly. It’s just a shame that he’s doing stuff that feels like a straightjacket instead of letting his freak flag fly.

Have you ever read Devlin Waugh: Swimming in Blood? Oh my god – it’s all like blood and sweat and muscles and vampires as compared to all the stuff he does with Ed Brubaker which in comparison just kinda seems… anaemic? Although fuck it: I guess it’s good that someone so talented is making bank. I just wish he was doing wild fully painted sci-fi stuff instead LOL

But hey – I don’t know. Maybe this is just what people want from their comic books? Nothing too exciting. Nothing too experimental. Just something safe and bland and easy to read. 

Maybe it’s not in the sense they meant – but I guess you could call that Criminal. 

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