Cruel Summer is published by Image Comics, written by Ed Brubaker, art by Sean Philips, and colors by Jacob Philips. When a young man from a bad home makes a regrettable decision it begins a chain of events that will leave broken hearts and homes along with dead bodies in its wake. But there is always more to the story than just the aftermath. While what happens is important, why is almost always the more intriguing question.
It has been said that the sins of fathers are forever passed down to their sons. That the actions they take can often perpetuate the actions that will follow them through their children. Resulting in a never-ending cycle of blood, abuse, and anger. And while sometimes these cycles are broken, and sons manage to escape from their father’s faults, others aren’t so lucky.
I’m at a loss for how to talk about Cruel Summer. I could go for a cliche like, “it’s about bad people doing bad things.” But that doesn’t give the story it’s due. I mean, yes, it would be a fair assessment in a high-level sort of way. But as they say, the devil is in the details and the details Brubaker threads through his narrative certainly makes it much more than a simple story about bad people doing bad things.
It begins with a misguided attempt by a young Ricky Lawless to get his dad bail money. While he succeeds at his attempt, the infamous Law of Unintended Consequences gets him good. And his recently freed dad Teegan has to find a way out of a tight position.
From here, Teegan becomes the epicenter of Cruel Summer’s story. His search for a way out of his troubles ends up landing him in with a most unique woman named Jane. Jane changes a lot about Teegan though, perhaps, not as much as one might hope. With as much a penchant for trouble as him, Jane isn’t about to take him off the crooked path. He’ll just smile more as he walks it. And while Jane’s appearance is a welcome incursion for Teegan’s life, the same cannot be said for young Ricky.
As I said earlier, Teegan is the epicenter of Cruel Summer, but Ricky is perhaps equally important to the story as his father. There is a lot of emotional moments that Ricky goes through as the narrative flows through this book. While I didn’t expect many of them, by the time Brubaker had finished explaining why Ricky felt the way he did, it all made perfect sense. It is through Ricky that Cruel Summer becomes more than just a story of bad people doing bad things, it becomes a look at the human condition.
In particular, it’s a look at how anything can become normal, and how upset we can become when that normal is threatened. And, if I may invoke another old cliche, it brings stark truth to the phrase, “when your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Unfortunately for all involved, the only tool many of the characters in Cruel Summer have learned to wield is an exceptionally bloody hammer.
The deep characterizations and hard-hitting story of Cruel Summer are aided in its delivery by Philips pitch-perfect art. Creating that heavily shadowed, gritty noir crime feel in every page helps every unfortunate choice hit with all the impact it is intended to. Along with this, Philips keeps the reader’s perspective shifting in interesting ways, keeping the more dialogue-heavy scenes from becoming stale and keeping them more energetic than they might otherwise come across.
While the lines here begin the excellent illustrations of Cruel Summer, the colors finish the job with skill. The muted colors, dark palette, and rough shading enhance the noir presentation perfectly.
Lastly, the lettering here provides the final touch for the visuals in Cruel Summer. Imperfect lines form the thought boxes, adding to the rough around the edges feel of the entire narrative. Giving the visual presentation of the words the same roughness as many of the thoughts themselves.
When all is said and done, Cruel Summer is a great story for those looking for a slow-burn tale that hits hard and ends with a bang. It goes out of its way to give context to the whys of the people in the story and the crimes they commit. It is through this exploration of why that Cruel Summer is able to elevate itself above just being another story about bad people doing bad things.
Cruel Summer is available on August 12th wherever comics are sold.
When all is said and done, Cruel Summer is a great story for those looking for a slow-burn tale that hits hard and ends with a bang.