Tracy Lawless has spent 18 months in the hole; locked up in a military prison, no contact with the outside world. Then he's handed the personal effects left behind by his brother, murdered nine months earlier; news the Army kept from Lawless. Two days later, he's gone: headed back to the city to avenge his brother's death, because that's what guys like him are supposed to do.
The brothers grew up in crime, and Tracy knows that if he tracks down Rick's last crew he's likely to find the killer. So he makes a small heist of his own, and infiltrates the crew without anyone knowing. But huge burn scars from his soldier time in the Middle East make him easy to identify. And the crew is preparing for a big heist, and of course there's a woman too, who happened to be his brother Rick's girl.
The beauty of this installment of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips Criminal series isn't so much the noirish setting, which Phillips' dark art gets well-night perfect, nor the relentless pace of the story, which Brubaker takes through twists combined with the usual noirish inevitability. But what makes it really stand out is the way it shifts times: flashbacks to the Lawless childhoods, to Tracy's Army service, and the story of why he's behind bars at the start, and of course the caper which he intends to use as the stage for his revenge. They segue smoothly, but what's impressive is the way the stories mesh together, providing characterization and motivation that makes precise sense, even down to Lawless' names. And it connects, in the end, with previous chapters of the Criminal story.
Being noir, nothing works out as planned, not relationships, not revenge, not the noirish femme fatale, and of course not the heist. But the ending is perfect noir, and there aren't many writers around, in any medium, who get it as well as Brubaker does. This series moves from strength to strength.
Criminal Volume 2: Lawless
by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Image 2015, £10.99 ISBN 9781632152039