Criminal (Vol. 5): The Sinners by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Criminal (Vol. 5): The Sinners by Ed BrubakerTracy Lawless, whom we met in Criminal (vol. 2): Lawless, returns in The Sinners, volume five of Criminal. In this volume, he’s working for Sebastian Hyde, the man behind most of the organized crime in the city. He doesn’t want to work for Hyde, but he’s given his word (due to reasons explained in volume two), and Tracy always keeps his word — which keeps getting him into trouble. When other people involved in organized crime start getting killed for seemingly no reason, Hyde makes Tracy take on the role of detective: Find out who is doing the killings and dispose of them.

For the most part, Tracy is a hired killer. But what makes him an interesting character is his twisted sense of ethics: While he goes about killing many of those Hyde orders him to, he has certain rules he follows. First, he won’t kill any women at all, which is an essential rule to Tracy because he sees himself as a hero who always fights the good fight when it comes to women. In this story, as we saw in volume two, we see Tracy repeatedly go out of his way to protect women, even when the women don’t seem to want protection. Secondly, Tracy won’t kill anyone unless he, personally, believes they deserve it. He researches each of the men he is sent out to kill. Hyde is not amused by Tracy’s sense of ethics — Tracy is supposed to do as told — but Tracy is such a good killer, given his years of military training, that Hyde doesn’t want to lose him.

This is a great story, and since it’s noir, we know it’s going to keep getting worse as we read: We watch each bad decision Tracy makes, wanting to scream out “No” to the character as he keeps digging his own grave deeper and deeper. While he pursues the elusive killers, someone else pursues him: The military has sent a man out to retrieve Tracy, a deserter who is still greatly in demand for the skills he has to offer. The Military seems to value him just as much and for the same reasons as does the head of a crime family. In the middle of all this activity are the women who are used and abused by the men surrounding them, men who see them as objects to own, whether they are prostitutes, lovers, daughters, or wives. Even Tracy, for all his lofty sense of morality when it comes to women, is in many ways no better than any of the other men: He, too, sees them as objects — perhaps objects of pity — but still objects nonetheless. Tracy is a flawed man with a sense of purpose in a seemingly meaningless world, and Criminal: The Sinners will have you feeling conflicted by this well-developed character in the larger, sprawling world of Brubaker’s Criminal.


  • Brad Hawley

    BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

    View all posts