Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are the current reigning kings of crime comics, and their landmark series Criminal returns after four years with a one-shot from Image Comics on February 25. Printed in the standard comic-book format—as well as a special oversized edition, like the first issue of Brubaker and Phillips’ The Fade Outthis new story follows Teeg Lawless, who is spending 30 days in prison with a target on his head. His only solace is a comic book left behind by his dead cellmate, a Conan The Barbarian-esque issue that introduces a sword-and-sorcery element to the hard-boiled atmosphere these creators have become accustomed to.

Much like the last Criminal miniseries, The Last Of The Innocents (which landed at the very top of The A.V. Club’s list of the best comics of 2011), February’s one-shot juxtaposes imagery from a previous era with the gritty events of Teeg’s current situation. But rather than commenting on the naïve setting of classic Archie comics, this new Criminal tale looks at a more aggressive genre as it depicts scenes from a comic book featuring an intensely muscled, scantily clad warrior in a fantasy environment.

This preview of the one-shot, featuring colors by Fatale and The Fade Out’s Elizabeth Breitweiser, displays how those two narratives change the reading experience, with the fantasy story presented in black-and-white while Teeg’s story is captured in full color. For readers unfamiliar with Brubaker and Phillips’ series, Image Comics releases a new collection of their very first story arc, “Coward,” this week. Anyone who loves great crime stories should seek out this seminal work on Wednesday, then come back in a month for even more intense lawbreaking action.

Oversized edition variant by Sean Phillips

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