“Incognito” and “Criminal: The Sinners” by Brubaker/Phillips

In the wake of my book-feeding frenzy for the Tournament of Books, I decided to catch up on comic books. While I’ve shifted from buying monthly title to buying collected graphic novels for most books, there are a few I won’t wait for, and Ed Brubaker’s noir and pulp series like Incognito and Criminal are among them. Not only are they on high quality paper with strong art from Sean Phillips, but there are no intrusive ads, there’s an informative author page in the back, and a noir/pulp related article. Neither of the latter are in the collections; Brubaker calls them the canvas goodie bag reward for those of us who buy the single issues, and I’m happy to do so. The quality of the story, art, and back matter is of the highest in comics.

During a break from the ongoing series Criminal, Brubaker and Phillips launched Incognito, about an unhappy guy in witness protection. The twist is he was a super villain, and got his powers taken away and witness protection for giving evidence against his former boss, The Black Death. In a nod to The Matrix, his fake last name is Anderson. In a nod to indie-comics great Harvey Pekar, he’s an angry file clerk. The topsy turvy ethics of the book, along with its dark humor, make it fast, bumpy, enjoyable ride. A sequel series is due this summer, 2010.

After Incognito, Brubaker and Phillips returned to the world of their Criminal series with “The Sinners“, and returning character Tracy Lawless. Tracy’s a killer, but only of those who deserve it. This is a slippery place to be, and Tracy doesn’t exactly finesse it. He’s having an affair with the boss’s wife, can’t figure out who is killing the boss’s peers, and has a guy from his past on his tail trying to drag him back where he came from. Things don’t end pretty, but there’s a lot to satisfy in this story. I don’t think we’ll be seeing Tracy again, at least for a while, but I was glad to consume this story in one fell swoop, having bought the issues but not read them till now, when the story was complete.

These are for fans of noir, pulp, crime, and comics. Violent and dark, they’re not for everybody. But if you like what Brubaker and Phillips do, you’re going to like most of what they do, so check them out, if any of this sounds like a good thing to you.

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