THIS REVIEW OF ‘SMOOTH CRIMINALS’ CONTAINS SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. It was a busy three decades. 1969, the year of Woodstock and humans visiting the moon with a ship powered by roughly a 2K computer (though the AGC was, not ironically, crash-proof). 1999, the year They Might Be Giants launched the first exclusively MP3 format album by a major-label artist, and when Eugene Shoemaker’s ashes were carried to the moon on the Lunar Prospector space probe.
In BOOM! Studios’ Smooth Criminals #1, the two eras collide when mod international jewel thief Mia Corsair meets cyber-savvy hacker Brenda Ospina. Introductions are made courtesy of writers Kurt Lustgarten and Kirsten ‘Kiwi’ Smith, artist Leisha Riddel, colorist Brittany Peer, and letterer Ed Dukeshire. It’s a story that effectively combines a heist, buddy, and protagonist-out-of-time film.
Brenda, our 1999 part of the duo, is socially awkward and given to speaking her running internal dialogue aloud without realizing it. She works in the computer lab of San Junipero Community College as part of a work/study program to help with her tuition. There she labors with personal interactions, especially when it comes to her obnoxious supervisor, Serge. (It’s a great antagonist name; try to say it without sneering just a little!) Give Brenda a phone or computer console barrier, however, and she shines. For a college student in 1999, she has seriously mad hacker skills and it wouldn’t be a stretch if she turned out to be one of the eight Hackers Unite members who exploited a giant security flaw in Hotmail that year.
When “Killa-B” (Brenda’s hacker handle) is unceremoniously relegated to cleaning a cluttered science department storage area, she uncovers an old piece of hardware sporting a computer interface keypad. A little code shuffle and coaxing results in Brenda unlocking the outdated device. And releasing the subject trapped within the antiquated cryogenic stasis chamber.
Enter our protagonist from 1969, renowned jewel thief Mia Corsair, whose last memory was preparing for her ultimate gem theft just before – nothing. She has no idea, she claims, how she ended up flash-frozen for 30 years. We get to see Buffy-worthy acrobatics out of Mia, and a Selina Kyle sense of style. She’s smart, capable and dangerous to know (at least in a felonious sort of way).
Both Mia and Brenda are loners, just in initially dissimilar ways. Trusting associates would be a liability risk for most successful, major league cat burglars. Having close contact with people not also cloistered behind their individual computer screens is not our hacker’s strong suit. Mia needs a computational guru with malleable ethics as she plays stranger in a strange land, however. And Brenda — if we’re being honest, Brenda likely needs Mia less than vice versa. But a computer genius’ existence is short on thrills and exciting co-conspirators who just might become that rarest introvert commodity: A real-life friend.
Besides the petty villainy of Serge, it’s fitting that in the year of The Matrix, two cookie-cutter MiBs show up asking questions about the opened cryopod. Agents Smith can’t be portents of fair fortune for our heroes. Otherwise, our first issue is very much a Brenda entry, establishing where she’s at in life and what dreams she entertains for her future. Mia’s left to offer up what little we know about her, which means the truth may differ from her version. The storyline has an even flow sprinkled with light humor, much of it in the slightly awkward vein when it comes to Brenda. There are several period-appropriate references to kindle a nostalgic grin, including homage to Tommy Boy and a reliance on modems to conduct online wizardry. Lustgarten and Smith make a reader hope we get a similar time portal issue for Mia.
Riddel’s art hits the right tone, equally suitable for depicting elements of the nerdy 90s or the swingin’ 60s. She has a carefree animation styling; expressions and facial contortions add layers to every character in the narrative above and beyond revelations from dialogue or exposition. Peer’s colors have a gently washed-out, hazy memory appeal in the 1999 setting. The public scenes are largely delivered this way, but colors liven more personal exchanges and settings. It’s an effective less-is-more way of doing business. Dukeshire has a blast, especially with the sound effects lettering. The best is saved for moments like thinking you might have kinda-sorta launched a nuke, and then the panel torrent becomes a vivid cacophony in the reader’s mind. His bolds are also effectively appropriate, establishing the speech patterns for different characters.
In its first issue, Smooth Criminals successfully introduces. It gives good characterization of one primary protagonist and begins development on the second. It reveals much without miring down, entertains without relying on tons of action. Brenda is a study of contrasts, and at times she comes off as drastic duality. Invisible, yet able to assert herself notably. Inter-personally challenged, yet seeing she has the upper hand and applies the requisite pressure. Capable of cracking into monetary accounts like a kid shattering a ceramic piggy bank. Yet living at home and working her way through college. It could be an uneven portrayal, if you didn’t know brilliant, clever people who act just this way.
Groundwork is set in the last page for the next chapter in this budding, ongoing Buddy Story. We like Brenda and Mia. We want to see how their different flavors of reclusiveness, their individual loner statuses, mingle and affect one other. In that exchange, there’s likely to be the fun of shadowy government ops thwarted, a bully named Serge made to suck it, and two wily, misaligned, kindred free-spirits aiming to misbehave. We’re hoping they hit a bullseye.
BOOM! Box/BOOM! Studios/$3.99
Written by Kurt Lustgarten and Kirsten ‘Kiwi’ Smith.
Art by Leisha Riddel.
Colors by Brittany Peer.
Letters by Ed Dukeshire.
7.5 out of 10
Check out this five-page preview of ‘Smooth Criminals’ #1, courtesy of BOOM! Box, an imprint of BOOM! Studios!
Cover A by Audrey Mok.
Cover B by Chynna Clugston Flores.
Cover C by Naomi Franquiz and Rebecca Nalty.