BENGALURU: Graphic Novels cost too much, they say… But think of it this way - you can read the best graphic novels thrice. The first time, read it for the story. The second time, read it for the dialogues. And the third time, read it for the artwork. So the best graphic novels are very reasonably priced, I would say.
And one of the best pure crime graphic novels is the ongoing series, ‘Criminal’.
I have only read the first two storylines of the series, written by Ed Brubaker and with artwork by Sean Philips. No superheroes, no supernatural elements, no mythology, just gritty, tightly written crime stories. I would definitely recommend them to any fan of crime fiction who would like to try something different from the run-of-the-mill.
The first story of the series, named ‘Coward’, was released in 2007 by Marvel. It tells the story of Leo Patterson, who is a pickpocket and a thief. He is also an excellent planner of large thefts and heists. He is extremely risk-averse for a person in his profession - he has a few conditions on running a heist. One: that he would be in complete control of the mission - who to hire, how to run it, and all the operational aspects of the plan. Two: he won’t allow guns. Three: He would not work with members of the police - however crooked they may be. Four: if there is the first sign of things not working out, he would drop everything and run. Therein lies the reason for his nickname within the underground. Safety first, that’s Leo. The coward.
Leo lives with his ‘uncle’ Ivan, who has Alzheimer’s. At the start of the story, he is living a simple life, if you can call it so - he makes a living by pickpocketing. It seems that his days of large thefts is behind him. A washed out formerly-brilliant heist planner.
And then, a former accomplice, and a crooked cop turns up. They want him in on a heist. It is a massive heist. Blood diamonds. But will Leo have full control of the operations? No. What about his policy of not working with the police, however crooked they may be? And guns? Will the coward have to break his principles? But the heist is seemingly really worth it.
It goes without saying that Leo gets into the heist. It goes without saying that it goes horribly wrong. So, would Leo be able to run? Would he run?
For folks like me whose knowledge of graphic novels went in only two directions, the ‘Watchmen’ direction and the ‘Maus’ direction, the ‘Criminal’ series came as a surprise. A happy surprise. I found the stories very Dashiell Hammet-esque, and there are few greater compliments I can give to a crime story. The artwork complements the story excellently - if someone would convert Red Harvest to a graphic novel, this is what it should look like. Strongly recommended, and worth the price.