Hardboiled, crime-noir books are in no short supply. GOOD crime-noir books are a little more rare. I had given up on Criminal back in 2006, after the second or third issue, deeming it derivative and uninspired. I brushed off Christian and Curtis' repeated attempts to persuade me otherwise. I don't know what made me pick it back up, recently, almost exactly 2 years later. I have to admit that I've written off Ed Brubaker, despite enjoying his run on Captain America, and despite the fact that he is a very critically acclaimed comic book writer (having won two Eisner and Harvey awards in recent years.)
Every volume in the Criminal series is a separate story arc, containing new characters and new plot twists. The catch is that all of these characters, in all of these stories, are connected. Thematically, and dramatically, the series sits halfway between 100 Bullets and Sin City. As of yet, however, there are no mysterious government organizations like 100 Bullets, and the characters are a little more realistic and human than those in Sin City. The series feels a lot more plausible.
The characters are dark, but not flat. You aren't sure if you like all of them or not, but you want to. Try to limit yourself to one volume a week, as rushing through the series might leave you experiencing the world with a Frank Miller-esque inner monologue.
I give Criminal 3.5 (out of 5) starving children,