Flashmob Fridays: Criminal: Last of the Innocent

This week, the last Flashmob Friday of the year features Criminal: The Last of the Innocent by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. The usual suspects weigh in, including a look at how this volume fits into the series by guest contributor Bubba Beasley.

Since I’d already reviewed the book (and named it one of my Best Graphic Novels of 2011), my contribution discusses my reaction to the ending of the book, including whether I thought it was ethical or not. Feel free to discuss, here or there.

Update: (2/22/12) Here’s my contribution in full. SPOILER ALERT.

When I reviewed Criminal: The Last of the Innocent, I resisted talking about the ending. That’s for two reasons: to avoid spoilers, and because I originally wrote about the story when only three of the four issues were out.

When I first read the final issue of this storyline, I was disappointed by the lack of justice I perceived. Riley gets away with three murders, at least for now, and winds up with a fortune and the girl he thinks he truly loves. Then I realized that I was assuming, because this was a comic book published (however indirectly) by Marvel, that a certain moral code would be upheld, where criminals get punished. That didn’t necessarily apply to a noir story. (Perhaps if I’d read any of the other Criminal stories, I’d have known better going in.)

This is also a temporary situation. We’ve seen, at the beginning of the book, how much Riley can screw up a good thing by, as one of the bad guys he owes money to puts it, “gambling an’ whoring.” Nothing’s really changed about him, and the situations we’ve seen him go through have likely only accentuated his recklessness and stupid choices when it comes to future decisions. He’s got a new temporary addiction, his new girlfriend, but how long will it take before he gets bored of her and screws things up? In such a light, the “new beginning” Riley narrates on the last page feels artificial, just like the imposition of the old-school art style over the grungy backgrounds.

The third thing I thought, and this is where I surprised myself, was “well, why not?” (This was only after the third and later re-readings, when I’d gotten over being shocked.) The promise of the modern comic industry is continual re-invention, no matter what horrible events reside in a character’s past. Superman goes from being a vigilante thug to a representative of legal authority to depowered modern guy to collaborator in forced mind-erasing to young punk. Archie hangs out with the Punisher and KISS while going to prom hundreds of times and never learning not to ask out two girls at once. Given the medium, why not show a happy ending and the potential of starting anew, regardless of one’s past?

The question now is, how believable do you find Riley’s assertions when he’s been lying to himself and others the whole story?

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