Crude No. 2 by Steve Orlando, Garry Brown, and Lee Loughridge is a rare second issue that builds expertly on its predecessor while also standing alone as a rewarding read. On the surface, this issue is the story of a turf war between a dominant oil company in a far-flung industrial Russian city and an upstart rival, with an old man who has a history of violence interjecting himself into the fray.
I’m not doing the plot justice (read this book for yourself—I strongly recommend it), but it’s equal parts bleak and compelling, heavy on ethos and fast-paced, graphic storytelling. It's very good. When evaluated as a continuation of Crude No. 1, however, this issue becomes a deeper and more rewarding part of a larger narrative about a man solving a mystery, seeking revenge, and potentially atoning for his life's chief mistake.
One of the qualities to Orlando’s work that puts him among my favorite comic book writers (dating back to his excellent 2015 Midnighter) is how he refuses to dumb anything down for readers. There’s a promise I’ve found made by Orlando comics, something along the lines of If you work to immerse yourself in this story, to really focus and engage with what I’m doing here, I will greatly reward you for your efforts.
And this new creator-owned book from Image Comics is his strongest work to date. In the first issue, Crude showed itself to be a story of juxtapositions of two lives, one of violence and another of domestic bliss, all within its first four pages: two of which showed our protagonist, Piotr, at breakfast with his family, and two of which showed him violently thrashing enemies.
One problem I see at times within modern comics is a somewhat gratuitous use of time jumps: Then. Now. Five Minutes Past Then. Next Thursday, etc., but Crude uses non-linear storytelling to great effect, thereby justifying every time jump. Crude is a story that must incorporate mistakes made through time—not so much the violence of Piotr’s past but rather his decision to keep it hidden from his son—and it uses juxtaposition to make those mistakes all the more powerful. The non-linear time elements in this book are, in other words, essential.
Crude's artwork also bears mention. The nature of our plot is such that there’s a significant amount of interiority. It’s basically a story of a man grappling with regret, which is a difficult conflict to convey in comics, but Brown and Loughridge’s art does an incredibly effective job working in tandem with Orlando’s scripting. In issue No. 1, when Piotr first sees the body of his son, the book excels at showing rather than telling, deploying panels that alternate between the body and the man’s reaction as he hears earlier dialogue echo in his mind, asking “this your son?” and we realize he’s weeping not only for his loss but because his own life of secrets prevented him from ever truly knowing his only boy. Powerful stuff.
Overall: Crude No. 2 introduces a framework for the challenges and mystery our protagonist must fight to overcome, and it does so in a suspenseful way that doesn’t sacrifice any of the interiority that made No. 1 so compelling. Orlando, Brown, and Loughridge are really building something special here, something that feels powerful as well as painstakingly deliberate. 9.3/10
Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.