This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on November 7, 2016.
Image Comics is launching their newest crime comic this week: Violent Love, created by writer Frank J. Barbiere and artist Victor Santos. It’s a period piece about a Bonnie and Clyde style team of bank robbers who fall deeply in love. The comic is packed with action, style, and non-typical romance. After having read the first issue in advance, we suspect it’s a sure fire hit at Image Comics.
Part of that opinion is also based on Image Comics very successful history of producing crime comics over the past decade. They’ve collected some of the absolute best talents working today to tell stories of misdeeds and mayhem. These are stories that have collected a bevy of Eisners, Harveys, and just about every other comics award you could shake an issue at. We decided to round up five of our absolute favorite Image crime comics to celebrate the launch of Violent Love.
If you haven’t read these before, be sure to check them out. They will definitely scratch that criminal itch while you’re waiting for Violent Love #2.
Criminal (and the rest)
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colorist: Val Staples and Elizabeth Breitweiser
Was there any doubt? Not only is Criminal the most appropriately named comic in existence for this particular list, but it lives up to the incredible hype that surrounds the title. While it started at Marvel’s Icon imprint, it has moved to Image Comics along with the beloved Brubaker and Phillips team they produces it. Each story tackles a different time period and character in a shared universe. They are tragedies with Shakespearean twists on a low class, human scale. Without a central character, the series can end stories at any point, providing a real sense of finality to each of its collections.
You can’t limit the crime work of this team to Criminal though. Series like Fatale, The Fade Out, and Kill or Be Killed are all excellent as well. In fact, The Fade Out made our best of list for 2015 last year and took home the Eisner Award for best limited series. Rather than allow this team of creators to dominate the entire list though, we’re just giving them this first spot as a catch all with Criminal at the top of the stack. When it comes to crime at Image Comics, there is no debate surrounding this creative team or the series they’ve created. They’re just that good.
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Steve Lieber
Colorist: Ryan Hill
The Fix is one of the most popular new comics launches of 2016. This story about two very corrupt police officers and a drug-sniffing Beagle has continued to sell out as readers everywhere laugh at each new issue. While it took a while for this particular series to come out from its announcement, the wait has proven to be well worth it. There was little doubt about that though, considering it is from the same creative team that brought The Superior Foes of Spider-Man to life.
While the main story is a delightful farce by itself, it’s artist Steve Lieber that makes this a comic you cannot miss. Each new misadventure is packed with details and every joke is delivered with exquisite comic timing. Lieber has a knack for breaking down pages and knowing exactly how to focus readers on what counts. He and Spencer have managed to make one instance where police corruption is actually amusing.
Creator: David Lapham
Stray Bullets is a comic that almost ended without an ending. It was first published in 1995 by creator David Lapham, but new issues stopped coming out and collections fell out of print in 2005. Despite a rabid cult fan base and massive critical acclaim, it looked like the series would be put on hold indefinitely. That is until Image Comics stepped in to both republish the existing 40 issues and bring out new ones, 19 to date with no end in sight.
What makes Stray Bullets so special (and its return so exciting) is Lapham’s dismissal of story tropes and romantic notions. People die, accidents are tragic, and the best laid plans collapse in this story filled with complex characters. There is no logic or justice to the universe of Stray Bullets. Instead, it is a real nihilistic story about people in desperate circumstances and the many unintended consequences of their actions. While this may not be a story to read to cheer you up (although it does have some great comedic moments), it is one that will remind you what makes crime fiction great.
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Jason Latour
It’s no secret that we really, really, really like Southern Bastards. It’s one of the absolute best comics being published today, racking up awards and continued praise from critics and fans alike. That is no surprise considering the mega talents at work on it. Aaron developed the series hot on the heels of his last crime saga Scalped, and Latour has brought his tour-de-force combination of linework, composition, and coloring to make this one of the most visually appealing comics of today.
The beauty of Southern Bastards rests in its complex weave of characters. What began as one man’s return to his hometown has exploded into that town’s own crime epic packed with fascinating individuals and layers of history. There’s no person in Craw County, Alabama who could star as the hero or villain of their own comic. In Southern Bastards readers witness them all together, as the story continues to build its stakes and deliver upon its promise in each and every issue.
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Ben Templesmith
Earlier we mentioned that it was a brilliant stroke of luck that Stray Bullets returned and will be completed. Fell is a comic that is currently in the same limbo that Lapham’s work found itself in for a decade. Created by the very, very busy Ellis and Templesmith, this series only reached 9 issues before falling out of publication due to scheduling and sales problems. But the issues that do exist are truly excellent and still very much worth seeking out.
Fell tells the story of homicide detective Richard Fell who is transferred to Snow Town, an urban environment so bleak and strange that it gives Gotham City a serious run for its money. Each issue is a self-contained tale that slowly builds Fell’s and the reader’s understanding of this place and a potential conspiracy that may exist just beneath everything they witness. It’s a captivating story with tremendous visuals. With a little bit of luck and some new readers, we might even see more of Fell someday.