The Unattainable Past in Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ “Criminal: The Last of the Innocent”
Nostalgia powerfully pulls at us, especially as we get older. Deriving from the Greek words nóstos (homecoming) and álgos (pain), nostalgia relates to a longing for the familiar that has passed away. However, the authenticity of that past is not reality. It exists as a mental construction, one that plays up the feelings of youth and innocence while hiding the realities of the past. This is what Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal: The Last of the Innocent (2015) addresses. It plays with and satirizes readers’ nostalgic desires.
Set in Brookview, The Last of the Innocent draws upon comics such as Archie to present an image of an idyllic, suburban American past filled with white teenagers who are innocent and good. The panels move from these Archiesque images to a more gritty and contemporary style in the present, where we see Riley Richards murder his wife Felicity (Felix) and frame her lover Teddy.
Even within the panels that depict a 1950s-1960s era Brookview, Brubaker and Phillips play with notions that the post-World War II era exuded innocence. One such sequence, “Riley’s Gal Pal, Felicity,” occurs immediately after Riley’s father’s funeral. The full-page sequence only contains seven panels, including the title. It begins by showing Felix getting ready for prom and her father entering the room saying he thought he heard Riley in the room. Her father does not like Riley, because of his class position, and he tries to talk Felix into not seeing him by offering her a raise in her allowance. She says she likes Riely, but agrees to not bring him around the house if she gets the raise.
On the surface, this exchange and the setting do not seem too far out of the ordinary for a show like Dobie Gillis, Donna Reed, or Leave it to Beaver. The exchange just appears to be a father and daughter disagreeing on the merits of a boy that she wants to date. The sequence ends, though, with two panels that show what happens when Felix’s father leaves the room. In the first, we see an hidden person say, “Boy, Felix. . . “ In this panel, Felix looks down and starts to lift her dress. The final panel shows Riley coming out from under the make-up table with his hand underneath Felix’s dress, fingering her. Felix asks, “Hey, did I say…