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Criminal: Tenth Anniversary Special Edition Magazine


criminal_10th_anniversary_magazine_editionDeadly Hands

Editor: Ray Archer
Content Editor: Ed Brubaker
Art and Design: Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser
Production: Drew Gill
Publishing Liasons: Eric Stephenson, Robert Kirkman
Cover: Sean Phillips
Frontispiece: Phil Jacobs
Published by: Image Comics
Cover Date: April 2016
Cover Price: $5.99

I’ve long been “aware of” Brubaker‘s Criminal series. I’ve read a few issues in the past, and quite enjoyed them…as I have most things he’s written/put out, particularly in this sort of capacity. While I’m blanking on the title offhand, I also remember sampling a spinoff/parallel series more recently, but never stuck with it at length…unfortunately, this sort of thing tends to read better in collected format to me, and when ‘everything’ is a mini-series within an overall continuity, I’d just as soon wait for an entire story…just that by the time it gets collected I’m often chasing other stuff and leave the less-familiar/top-of-the-mind stuff for “later.”

That said, I saw this issue–a 10th-anniversary special–and initially passed on it. A couple days later I saw it at another shop…along with the “Magazine Edition” of it, that REALLY caught my eye. I picked it up off the rack at that point to flip through, and put it back. Then picked it up again, flipped through a bit more, started to put it back, and looked at the price. And considered the format. As well as the fact that this is a 10th-anniversary thing, a special, a one-shot…not some new mini to invest in, not just some “latest issue of ____.” And honestly, the novelty of the thing got me.

While the “regular” edition looked just that–“regular” if a bit thick–the magazine edition is made up to look like some beat-up, well-read, well-worn 40-year-old paper product. And some of the interior pages–of this Fang, the Kung-Fu Werewolf–are as well, really steeping this in the mid/late 1970s.

Essentially, this issue gives us the slice-of-life of a boy–about 12–“on the run” with his dad. His dad had gotten a phone call without explaining, took his son, and they hit the road. We get the story from the boy’s perspective–knowing something’s up, but not fully knowledgeable of the details, just “surviving” the situation. At one stop along the way, the guy buys his son a magazine/comic–Deadly Hands–which he reads and enjoys, and then seeks out further issues. At another town, the boy is turned on to a local shop that might have an issue. While his dad disappears for a couple days, the boy is somewhat befriended by a girl, and the two bond a bit. It’s summer, there’s no school, and they’re free to hang out, do what kids do. Ultimately, the brief moment is spoiled as things come together for the kid’s dad, and we get a less than happy ending, as we truly see that this really is a “slice of life” sort of thing. Interspersed with the main story are pages the kid is reading in the Kung Fu magazine, giving us just enough to be interested in that story as well and nods to the likes of ’70s Marvel (at least, that’s where my mind went, though I’m hardly an expert on this particular genre or history of publication).

The magazine edition is a whopping $5.99. However, because of the thickness, and physical dimensions–of being magazine-sized rather than “just” a standard comic book size–as well as being a one-off novelty/nostalgia thing, I had no problem whatsoever with it. I would be hard-pressed to be willing to pay that for an ongoing series of issues, but as a one-time thing, a brand I recognize from a writer whose work I enjoy, I was willing to pay the price.

Actually reading the issue, I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed this a great deal more than most contemporary comics I’ve read lately. I drew a slight connection here to Watchmen, simply for the fact of the story-within-the-story and such, of reading pages of the story a character in the story was reading–but actually didn’t dig too deeply there. I simply enjoyed this, and the only thing taking me out of the story was looking at the effect of the pages and the jumping back and forth between “actual story” and the “story within the story,” but even that achieved something of its own effect that I liked.

Brubaker‘s name–along with the title itself–are the selling point for me. But while it’s the story that I thoroughly enjoyed, it was the visuals of the package that sold me, and thus Phillips and Breitweiser should not be overlooked. The art itself–particularly of the main story–would not have grabbed me, BUT was quite effective in getting things across, and reminded me somewhat of Steve Dillon’s work. The story–both the main and the Kung Fu Werewolf–is conveyed quite well and gives the required feel to both visually…firmly accentuating the writing and making for an attractive overall package, especially in having now read it cover to cover.

If you’re firmly into super-heroes or such, you may not care for this…but if you’re a casual-ish comics reader and/or interested in comics beyond superheroes and zombies, this was a great read. As said, a big part of the ‘fun’ for me was buying the magazine edition, but for the story itself alone, I’d recommend the issue, giving it a certain positive grade myself. While I don’t have the regular edition for comparison, this was ad-free, except the back cover’s faux-ad, part of the effect of the vintage-magazine appearance. I dare say this is at once representative of the high quality of Brubaker and co.’s work on Criminal, though this may well outshine regular issues for being longer and self-contained (whatever nods to prior Criminal stuff–if any–were over my “ignorant” head in this reading).

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