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Review of Criminal: Wrong Time, Wrong Place

Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.

This volume acts as a character study, telling tangentially related tales of Teeg Lawless. The first is from his perspective in a tense survival situation in 1976, and the second from the perspective of Tracy Lawless as he’s forced to accompany his father on a violent road trip in 1979. Much like volume three, this collection is about how characters think about themselves and what they’re doing more than it is about the particular details of specific plots.

Cover art to Criminal: Wrong Time, Wrong Place, with art by Sean Phillips.

Cover art to Criminal: Wrong Time, Wrong Place, with art by Sean Phillips.

Wrong Time

Teeg Lawless, by his own foolish actions, has landed in the county lock-up, where his boss, Sebastian Hyde, refuses to protect him, leaving Teeg to fend for himself among viscous men and opportunistic predators who have heard there is also a price on Teeg’s head. Amid the danger, Teeg’s only release is the comic book Savage, which tells the tale of the morally compromised barbarian Zangar, the Savage, and the story runs a rough parallel to Teeg’s own situation and general temperament. Simply trying to endure the two weeks until his release, Teeg digs deep for the not only the skills to survive but also a reason to consider if life is even worth living beyond violence and revenge.

Wrong Place

What looks at first like a father-son road trip with Teeg and Tracy Lawless is quickly revealed to be a cover for Teeg tracking down someone to lethally punish them for skipping out on their debts. Alternately forced to participate in his dad’s tracking and left alone without help or guidance, Tracy goes through his days constructing rules to live in these deranged circumstances and reading through a comic book called Deadly Hands, which features a kung fu werewolf trying to balance his life as a college student and a cursed creature fighting wizards and ninjas by night. As Tracy feels pulled helplessly into the trajectory of violence, he makes a friend and begins to wonder if there might be a different life for him aside from the orbit of criminal violence that is his father’s life.

From the left to right: Writers Ed Brubaker , Christos Gage , Matt Fraction and Brian Michael Bendis at a book signing at Midtown Comics Times Square in Manhattan, June 21, 2010.

From the left to right: Writers Ed Brubaker , Christos Gage , Matt Fraction and Brian Michael Bendis at a book signing at Midtown Comics Times Square in Manhattan, June 21, 2010.

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Know Thyself

These stories allow readers to see Teeg as a man and a monster. The violence of the first story becomes surreal and might be considered self-parody at points, but this technique also reflects Teeg’s understanding of himself. Teeg, like Zangar, believes himself to be doomed, which long-time readers know too, since his fate is established since the first volume. This odd, shared sense of a bleak future not only makes readers be on Teeg’s side but also reinforces the sometimes psychedelic cavalcade of violence that dominates the issue. The fact that one man with a shared love of the Zangar comic is willing to give Teeg a measure of help also makes even the grim underbelly of Criminal not utterly devoid of positive elements like hope or friendship.

While Teeg seems himself as a bad man in a bad world, Tracy’s perspective is that his father is a monster, and it’s hard to argue against that. From his son’s point of view, readers see Teeg as various shades of violence and abuse, where even his gestures at normalcy or kindness are sharp and more than a little malicious. It is easy to be on Tracy’s side because in many ways he’s victimized by the one man who should be defending him against the world of criminality and violence. The understanding readers have of Teeg from the first story is nearly impossible to maintain by the end of the second story, where his actions and inaction erode any sense Tracy has that he could have a better life. Readrs may not care at all about Teeg’s mission but they do care about the sensitive young boy who is being broken into a life of isolation and misery. This is a grim take on the Lone Wolf and Cub set up.

For readers who like the meta comic book elements, like parallels to the characters and the sense of trying to see something deeper in the stories, this volume has aspects like that, similar to what was seen in prior volumes like four and six. It may not have the same thematic impact, but it stretches toward the same ground, succeeding far more often than not.

This is another fantastic addition to the Criminal series, but readers should know going in, this volume isn’t like the more action-oriented volumes one, two, and five. For a reader not interested in character studies, this might not do it. It often centers around an unpleasant character. If none of those qualities are off-putting, however, this is worth getting.


Brubaker, Ed; Phillips, Sean. Criminal: Wrong Time, Wrong Place. Image, 2016.

© 2020 Seth Tomko

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