My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies — set in the world of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ long-running Criminal opus — is a gripping, heart-rending and ultimately tragic graphic novella about Ellie, a denizen of an upscale rehab clinic, who tests the elasticity of morality in a dog-eat-dog world where the roles of hero and villain are seamlessly interchangeable and equally immaterial.
It was purely coincidence I read this right after finishing Mark Brandi’s The Rip, which also stars two drug addicts, albeit in a Melbourne setting, and in the form of prose rather than a graphic novel. The books handle the topic of addiction very differently. My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies presents the romantic idea of substance abuse as Ellie repeatedly name-drops a bunch of famous musicians who used pills and needles to (Ellie believes) fuel their imaginations and thus their capacity to create great art. Ellie doesn’t want to be rehabilitated; she’s stimulated by the idea that “drugs help you find the thing that makes you special,” even though there are occasions when the reader will wonder whether that viewpoint is starting to fracture. My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies never actually presents the darker side of addiction — which is precisely where Brandi’s The Rip resides as it explores characters plummeting inexorably towards obliteration.
My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies opens with Ellie standing on the beach, reeling from the fateful decision that forms the climax of the text. The narrative flashes back, detailing the events that lead to Ellie’s walk along the sand using Brubaker’s trademark storytelling method of the internal monologue. Ellie is a patient at the Infinite Horizon rehab clinic, locked in a schedule of tedious meetings with other patients only too happy to over share. The only like-minded soul in the place is a handsome young man named Skip, and the two begin a flirtatious relationship which quickly blossoms into a full-blown, but doomed romance. Everybody is someone’s fool, and while Ellie’s fondness for Skip is genuine, it’s complicated by the skeletons in her closet. The story builds toward two questions: whether Ellie and Skip will live happily ever after (which deems doubtful from the very start) and whether Ellie will accept the toxicity of her addiction.
Brubaker’s writing is greatly enhanced, not for the first time, by the artwork of his frequent collaborator Sean Phillips. Previous volumes of Criminal have been punctuated by moments of violence, but My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies is far more nuanced, and Phillips excels at the quieter moments, capturing the emotion of a scene with unparalleled clarity. Brubaker and Phillips remain an iconic duo of the contemporary comics scene.
Number Of Pages: 72
Published: 16th October 2018
Publisher: Image Comics
Country of Publication: US
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ latest collaboration from Image Comics mines familiar territory in spectacular fashion. Set in 1948, The Fade Out is a sprawling and ambitious narrative focused primarily on Charlie Parish, a Hollywood writer haunted by wartime memories, who – true to form – has taken to the bottle in a bid to relieve himself of these vivid recollections, thus irreparably damaging the creative spark necessary to succeed in the business. And if that wasn’t bad enough, production on the noir film he’s working on has stalled because of the death of its up-and-coming starlet. Charlie’s alcohol-imbued mind potentially holds the key to unlocking the mystery of her death; but does he truly want to?
Sleeper, Criminal and Fatale honed Brubaker and Phillips’ partnership; The Fade Out raises their bar to an impossible level. The plot is labyrinthine, and Brubaker utilizes deft third-person narration to drive the story; clunky in the hands of less-talented writers, but perfect here. The story involves an extensive cast of characters – some recognizable faces from Hollywood’s yesteryear – and no doubt some plot threads will turn out to be red herrings. Inevitably the role of any first volume is to entice the reader to continue onto the second: that’s guaranteed, here.
The art alternates stylistically depending on the situation, and it’s a wonder to behold. Few, if any, illustrators operating today guarantee the clean and precise storytelling of Phillips’. He’s truly in a class of his own, and is wonderfully aided by the colours of Betty Breitweiser. Together, they capture the feel of late-1940’s Hollywood exactly as I imagine it.
The Fade Out reaffirms Brubaker and Phillips’ status as the numro uno creative team in comics. For crime and mystery readers, it’s an absolute must.
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s Criminal is a delightfully unpretentious crime series: it unabashedly embraces its noir roots, unembroidered by cheap theatrics or anomalous twists. Its various volumes, now published by Image for the first time in redesigned editions, are imbued with its creators’ regard for the genre, and represent the pinnacle of their respective careers. Coward is our entry into this dark, rain-drenched, graffiti-daubed world; professional thief Leo is our guide.
Leo is a criminal who knows when to walk away – or run, in the worst case scenario – from a job. And because of his proclivity for caution – his determination to survive – Leo has been dubbed a coward. And he’s okay with that – mostly. Because ultimately, he’s still here, while many of his friends are not. So now, five years after his last big heist went terribly awry, Leo works alone, pulling small jobs; enough to get by financially, and support his father-figure’s drug habit. It’s not a happy life, but he’s living, and for Leo, that’s enough. Of course, things soon change when figures from Leo’s past return, bringing him back into the fold: a big job with a massive payoff, surely too good to be true. But Leo should’ve trusted his reservations and walked away. Because there’s nobody you can trust less than a cop on the take; especially one with nothing to lose.
Coward reads like a Parker novel (although Leo isn’t quite as menacing as Richard Stark’s protagonist) – fast-paced, populated with a menacing cast, and punctuated with moments of brutal violence; vicious, but not gratuitous. Brubaker, Phillips, and Val Staples on colours, are operating at their zenith, demonstrating harmony on the coloured page. There is no better crime comic than Criminal; there are few better crime stories than Coward, period.