Coward is Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ first love letter to the genre of Crime Noir, it’s also superb comics. In Coward, Leo Patterson, a thief known for his planning acumen and caution, is offered a score too risky to try for but too good to pass up. What follows is a well executed Criminal tale rife with genre tropes: an elaborate caper, crooked cops, dangerous liaisons, violence and vengeance. The characters are vivid and likeable, the artwork atmospheric and dynamic, and the story suspenseful and well crafted, especially as circumstances in the story spin out of control. The world of Criminal that Brubaker and Phillips create is very convincing and realized: you don’t so much read a Criminal collection as you temporarily inhabit it. That said, Coward is Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips first Criminal collaboration, and to a certain extent it shows1: the distinctive colour palette of later Criminal volumes hasn’t been fully realized and the script is maybe less assured than later collections. This potential for improvement isn’t obvious though: Coward is a very well executed book by genuine comics superstars who clearly love the subject matter. Coward is a very easy book to recommend to any comics reader and if you at all enjoy Brubaker's mainstream comics work, the Criminal series is an absolute must read.
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1: I have had the pleasure of reading later Criminal stories (I started reading during Volume 3), I’ve come to Coward (and reviewed it) after the fact.