In some weird, bizarro world somewhere in this fine multiverse, there is someone who knows what I’m talking about when I say that, for me, CRIMINAL #7 and THE BLACK DIAMOND #2 are distant relatives in some strange sense.
I mean, sure, when you read both back to back, you may not have any idea what I’m thinking, considering the very different executions of each book. Criminal, for those who haven’t been picking up the series to date, is pretty much the crime book out there to beat these days, and this issue – the second chapter of the second story of the series – demonstrates why perfectly. Over a plot of revenge and good people in bad situations (although, I have to admit, I have no idea if Tracy is really a good person or not; I just like the idea that he has some sense of honor as opposed to just being in this for revenge. But let’s face it, Brubaker trades in moral ambiguity in books like Captain America, so why should his crime noir book be any cleaner?), Ed Brubaker delivers a tight, tense script that doesn’t so much explain itself as hints at what’s happening and who to trust and leaves the rest to the reader. It’s writing that works through dialogue without being overly chatty, which puts it entirely at odds with Larry Young’s script for Black Diamond, also in the second chapter of its story (or third, if you could the preview released a couple of years back) and also featuring good people in bad situations.
Young’s script for Black Diamond is all about the dialogue, and I mean that in the best way. More than really being plot-driven (as I’d suggest Criminal is), this issue of Black Diamond is three different conversations that rejoice in language and digressions and little bits of information that aren’t important to the core plot but tell you about the characters nonetheless. It’s an incredibly chatty book, but done in such a way that you forgive the metatextuality of characters referring to themselves as literary devices, or the bigger-picture expositionary download of the middle conversation, because… well, it’s just plain enjoyable to read language being used like that (See also: Sorkin, Tarantino, Bendis, etc. Yes, I get that people don’t really talk like that, but I don’t see why that should affect my enjoyment of fiction).
It’s good that Young’s script is so strong, because Lee Proctor’s visuals are kind of… not. Actually, that’s not fair; the book is visually stunning, but that’s because of Proctor’s amazing coloring and his sense of page design – his linework itself is pretty static and infuriatingly inconsistent (Mostly in his female characters, who change hairstyles depending on which photoref he seems to be using, panel-to-panel), to such an extent that it snaps you out of the story every now and again, when you have to stop and wonder whether that’s a new character who’s just appeared, or a new look for the same character as the last panel. Criminal, meanwhile, has no such issue; Sean Phillips does work on this that should be used as masterclass fodder for artists wanting to see how to get emotion onto the page without it being melodrama, and how to tell a story effectively without the art overwhelming the story (Val Staples’ coloring is also to be pointed out as understated but entirely effective). That, in fact, may be the core difference between the two books – Criminal is a comic that works because the creators involved put the story first and submerge themselves in the work, whereas Black Diamond is enjoyable because of the creators being present throughout the book. If that makes sense to anyone that isn’t me.
Nonetheless, both books are well worth your time. Black Diamond is Good fun, Larry Young showing off his chops with Jon Proctor backing him up, and Criminal is Very Good, Brubaker and Phillips both perfectly in synch with each other and focusing on getting the job done, which seems fitting for a crime book (For those who liked Sleeper and, for some reason, haven’t picked up Criminal yet – You really should. As good as that book was, this is much better). Mama Crime Genre can feel happy that her children may not look much like each other, but they’re both doing just fine, thank you very much.