This week, when it was announced that celebrated scribe Ed Brubaker would be penning the silver screen adaptation of his critically acclaimed crime fiction series, cleverly titled CRIMINAL, fans rejoiced. Why wouldn’t they? Brubaker is one of the biggest and most successful comic book writers in recent memory not named Brian Michael Bendis and CRIMINAL, though blandly named, is a reliably brilliant addition to any shelf it sits on. This is the man who killed Captain America, brought Bucky back to life, saved Matt Murdock from getting raped in prison by Stilt Man and brought the semi-relevant ¾ of one of the eight X-Men teams back from space. His work deserves to reach the widest audience possible.
There was, however, a time before Ed Brubaker was a household name. Before he took a ride- along through Gotham and hypothesized how a Steven Bochco Batman TV show might look, Brubaker pitched a tent in Metropolis, and that tent was named BIBBO.
In late 1994, just before Brubaker and Eric Shanower’s criminally underrated PREZ reboot (PREZ: SMELLS LIKE TEEN PRESIDENT), Vertigo editor Karen Berger accidentally left an issue of Dark Horse Presents in the passenger seat of Jerry Ordway’s car after a lunch meeting. Brubaker & Shanower’s serialized tale “An Accidental Death” lay therein, sparking Ordway’s long dormant twentysomething urge to tell a darker crime story and his current, burning passion to one-up Frank Miller’s SIN CITY. DC commissioned the newcomer to pen a 4-part miniseries starring the legendary SHAZAM penciller’s co-creation, Bo “Bibbo” Bibbowski.
Bibbo had long been portrayed as Superman’s punch drunk, cranially challenged erstwhile pal. In professional wrestling vernacular, if Lois Lane was The Man of Steel’s Miss Elizabeth, then Bibbo was his Brutus Beefcake; a loyal, meaty, if less than mentally available compatriot. Brubaker set out to poise Bibbo as a classical noir protagonist, a tough and determined brute beset upon by dishonest dames, labrynthian plot dynamics, and painfully opaque exposition delivered through terse, double entendre laden dialogue. It was an exciting effort.
The story began with a lowly drug dealer on the run from Intergang enforcers seeking sanctuary in Bibbo’s bar, the Ace O’Clubs, which for whatever reason, was drawn to look exactly like Hell’s Kitchen dive bar Josie’s from DAREDEVIL. The dealer is killed by Livewire, moonlighting as a contract killer for Intergang, at the end of the first issue, leading Bibbo to solve the mystery of why the thug was on the run with the help of the girlfriend he left behind. Clever appearances from Bibbo’s scientist brother, Professor Bibbowski, Morgan Edge and mild mannered reporter Clark Kent were worked into the twisty tale’s house of wet playing cards narrative structure. Every chapter break was telegraphed by Bibbo being punched in the face before fading to black and a smirking “to be continued…” tag promised even more noir theatrics the following month.
After the third issue hit the stands and Frank Miller took serious (potentially litigius) offense to Ordway drawing Bibbo to look more and more like SIN CITY’s Marv, DC pulled the plug on the miniseries, choosing to conclude the dark tale in a Dan Jurgens written and drawn eight page back-up story in an Action Comics annual. Brubaker’s proposed grisly ending was written to feature Maxima and Knockout as a pair of lesbian femme fatales murdering members of Intergang after a double cross using only their hilariously thick thighs, where Jurgens’ new ending had the Guardian team up with an updated version of he Newsboy Legion to get to the bottom of the mystery using a simple combination of fisticuffs and journalistic integrity.
Needless to say, Brubaker found his tastes better suited to the darker adventures of the Caped Crusader and the rest was history.