REVIEW: Crude #5 by Steve Orlando, Garry Brown, Lee Loughridge, & Thomas Mauer

By Zack Quaintance — I’d like to start today by discussing Crude #5’s artwork. Garry Brown is a doing yeoman-like work on this book, creating panel after panel that brims with exactly what this story calls for in any given moment, be it a kinetic and violent pastiche or quiet emotional impact of our hero learning something heartbreaking and new about how he failed his son. Brown has been putting out killer work for a while now—from Black Road with Brian Wood to Babyteeth with Donny Cates—but, simply put, Crude is his best book to date.  

Phew, now on to the story. Crude #5 is the penultimate issue of the first arc, the place traditionally reserved for the steepest escalation in both action and consequence, and in that regard it certainly doesn’t disappoint. This is easily the best issue of Crude yet. What is perhaps most interesting about it is how much we learn about Piotr’s relationship with his murdered son, Kirilchik, which so far has been shown in brief, often only through a father’s mourning lens.

I once had a writing teacher who stressed what he called The Rate of Revelation. It’s a simple enough concept: stories live and die by how much new information we’re getting at any given moment. That’s not to say writers have to be telling us what our hero’s favorite food is all the time or something, but rather that a writer’s job is to find compelling ways to continually show an audience who these people they’ve invented are, what they’re made of, and why they matter.

And that’s exactly what Orlando’s script excels at in Crude #5: it finds new and compelling ways to constantly give us revelations about our hero, this time having the thoughts and feelings of his murdered son quoted back to him by someone who knew his son while he was alive. Our protagonist thus far has been nigh-invincible (thus far), at least when things devolve into violence, to the point I find myself unconcerned about his physical well-being. When he starts to learn key details (no spoilers!) about his son’s life—and the next panel pulls away to show how small he is in the room at that moment? Ho man, was I on the proverbial edge of my seat, and it just got more tense from there.    

Another thing Crude #5 does well is deepen its shady corporate culture plot, showing the exploitation of real people, which is thematically so relevant right now that it hurts. To say anything more would be to risk giving too much away. Lastly, I just want to note that this script has a wealth of really impactful lines, including one of my favorites: But there’s no self-respect in living just under people’s noses. Great stuff.

Overall: Crude #5 is the best issue of this book yet. More than a stage-setter for next month’s first arc conclusion, this comic is rich with revelations about its lead character and the world he’s beaten his way into. This series is career-best work for both Brown and Orlando, must-read comics. 9.5/10

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

REVIEW: Crude #4 by Steve Orlando, Garry Brown, Lee Loughridge, & Thomas Mauer

Crude #4 is out July 18.

By Zack Quaintance — Crude #4 is yet another intense and emotional installment for one of the smartest series in indie comics. This book has a pair of clearly established plot lines—a father-son revenge story, and a meditation on late-model capitalism curtailing the humanity of individuals—and in this issue they begin to thoroughly intertwine in a way that really pushes the story forward.

Crude #4 opens exactly where the preceding issue left off, with protagonist Piotr Petrovich demanding information about his murdered son from a mob of attackers, all of whom he subsequently dispatches while incurring no greater damage than a cut on his arm. No greater physical damage, anyway. The larger stakes of the battle (as well as this book) involve what our hero learns about his son.

Being able to win fights but wanting instead to know more of his lost son is a value structure established quite well by Crude’s first three issues. Where #4 finds new ground is in its exploration of workers rights, corporations, industrial cartels, and the way individuals are controlled and debased by corrupt systems, no matter how hard they work. It also starts to explore the generational gap that has taken hold in society's across the world: the father as a good trusting soldier, the son as someone striving for change. This may be a reductive, but Crude is sneakily timely as hell.

In one particularly effective scene, a shady besuited executive rages that a single man is causing him so many problems, a man who is effectively acting outside established structures. It’s a telling metaphor, one Orlando and Brown have previously hinted at but kept in the background, wisely devoting earlier issues to vesting the audience in the more poignant father-son story.

One of the things I liked most about Crude #4, though, was the growth for the hero (or the promise of growth soon). It’s the best sort of character development: painful yet exactly what he wanted. Piotr has essentially been broken down of his own volition, continuing to learn that he didn’t know his son at all. Now begins the fascinating work of watching how he responds.

I’ve made this (likely simplistic) comparison before, but the emotional complexity of this comic is a bit like a Russian novel. At the same time, Orlando and Brown are clearly seasoned comics creators, because the usual qualities of great visual storytelling in chapter format are very much present: action, cliffhangers, callbacks to earlier issues. For me, it's this mix of fundamentals and meaning that make Crude so compelling.

Overall: Crude continues to have one of the most compelling hero's journeys in all of comics, one that blends gritty action with emotional devastation and subtle commentary. This fourth issue again ups the stakes in ways I could not have predicted. 9.0/10

For more about Crude, read our previous reviews of Crude #2 and Crude #3.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

REVIEW: Crude #3 by Steve Orlando, Garry Brown, Lee Loughridge, & Thomas Mauer

Crude  is a violent and complex revenge story, driven by a father-son relationship.

Crude is a violent and complex revenge story, driven by a father-son relationship.

By Zack Quaintance — As much as I liked Crude #1 and #2—and I did, a lot—it’s #3 that firmly establishes the book as one of my favorite ongoing creator-owned titles, up there with Saga, Monstress, and Southern Bastards. To get even more specific, it was actually this issue’s last panel that cemented it with such lofty company, a panel I will, of course, only discuss in vague terms here, because spoilers are bad, etc.

Anyway, a quick refresher: Crude is from writer Steve Orlando, artist Garry Brown, colorist Lee Loughridge, and letterer Thomas Mauer, and it's about a former Russian assassin seeking information on/revenge for the death of a son he never understood, a son who sought a new life in a far-flung oil city in Siberia (I think). When that son is murdered amid a dispute between rival oil companies, our hero heads to Siberia to do what he should have done in life—get to know his boy. And also to kick an incredible amount of ass, usually shirtless and streaked in greasy filth for a tactical advantage (I’m telling you, this comic rules).

Badassery aside, Crude’s compelling character motives and poignant imagery make it truly special. Let’s look at both of those in detail, starting with motives. Piotr (our hero) is on a dual quest, one for physical revenge, and another to know his son better. It’s the second one that’s really compelling. In fact, one gets the sense Piotr is less distraught by death—in his reality life is cheap—than by never being emotionally honest with his son, which causes him to feel culpable for the murder. Simply put, I fear more for Piotr emotionally than physically, as I learned in this issue when our hero learned details about his son during a pair of fight scenes. There’s just so much relatable father-son BS masculine angst.

Basically though, the aforementioned dual motivations are what push the book forward. An ubiquitous piece of creative writing advice is to create a character and give that character something they want, badly. The more we know what the character cares about, the more we care about the character. And the more wanting something puts the character in difficult situations, the better. That’s what Crude does so effectively (again, see #3’s final panel!).  

Garry Brown is doing career best work in  Crude , especially as it pertains to the conceptualization of the imagery.

Garry Brown is doing career best work in Crude, especially as it pertains to the conceptualization of the imagery.

The second strength—poignant imagery—makes Piotr’s motivations all the more visceral, the way only comics can. Every issue has had a haunting panel conveying Piotr’s mourning and regret. This issue, however, has the most memorable yet, wherein Piotr walks through a seedy alley with a ghostly coffin chained to his neck, ridden by his son who waves his arms as if it were the bomb in Doctor Strangelove. Oof.

Overall: Crude #3 exceeds previous installments, raising this book up among my favorite creator-owned titles right now, as well as among my favorite Image books period. It’s well-constructed and perfectly-executed, a bleak and deeply emotional story about damage caused by emotional distance and dishonesty between fathers and sons. 9.8/10

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.