(Issues 1-5, Oct 06 - Mar 07)
The story begins fifteen years after Tommy Patterson was killed in state prison, and five years after Leo survived the disastrous "Salt Bay job." Since then, Leo has been keeping a low profile as a pickpocket as he struggles to take care of Ivan, who suffers from both Alzheimer's disease and an addiction to heroin. Leo closely follows his own rules for survival, and so he has a reputation, not only for being brilliant at planning scores, but also for being a coward who always manages to escape a bad situation. Both aspects of this reputation attracts the attention of Seymour, who also survived the Salt Bay fiasco, and a crooked cop named Jeff. They try to recruit Leo to work an armored-car heist, telling him that the police evidence van is carrying $5 million in diamonds. He refuses because he has a rule against working with corrupt police officers, but Seymour knows Leo won't say no to a woman named Greta, a recovering heroin addict who's working the heist to start a new life with her daughter Angie. Leo eventually agrees to join the crew and recruits his friend Donnie, an epileptic con man.
When Jeff includes his own partners in the score, Leo and Greta suspect a double-cross, but they continue with the heist's planning and execution. Leo thought the double-cross would occur after the heist, so Jeff and his partners have the element of surprise when they open fire during the robbery, killing Donnie and wounding Greta. Leo still followed his rule about having his own back-up escape route, so he and Greta manage to drive away with the score, which he discovers isn't diamonds but rather a briefcase of heroin.
Jeff and his partners work for a drug kingpin named "Roy-L.T." Hyde, and the evidence-van heist was intended both to retrieve his merchandise and facilitate the release of his lieutenant named Delron. Furious with their failure, "Roy-L" kills one of Jeff's partners, and he then sends the recently freed Delron with Jeff to track down his nearly $1 million in heroin. While she recovers from her wound, Greta, Ivan, and Leo lie low at his grandfather's farm. He and Greta fall in love, and while they're sleeping together after a night of passion, Ivan finds the suitcase of heroin, and Jeff and Delron track down Greta's mother and daughter.
When Leo wakes up, he finds that Ivan died, overdosing on the uncut heroin. Leo withdraws emotionally from Greta, refusing to talk to her about his past, and while he buries Ivan behind the farmhouse, she makes the mistake of calling him a coward. Leo suddenly takes the heroin back to the city to find a way out of their predicament. There he meets "Genuine Jen" Waters, an old friend who now works in Internal Affairs for the police and who tells him about what "Roy-L" and Jeff were planning: they had hoped Leo would escape, but without the drugs, so that he could be the cops' sole focus. Meanwhile, distraught over how Leo left and tempted by the one remaining bag of heroin, Greta makes the mistake of calling of her mother's house, where her mother has been murdered and where Jeff is waiting to trace her phone call. Leo breaks into Seymour's apartment, hoping to use him to get out of the dire situation, when he finds a message on the answering machine: Jeff and Delron have found Greta.
Leo races back to the farm, but he finds Greta has been tortured and murdered. Still threatening to kill Greta's daughter Angie, Seymour forces Leo to take him to the briefcase of heroin. Seymour tells Leo that he has him figured out, but he doesn't, and Leo explains that his father didn't kill Teeg Lawless: Leo did. Leo's afraid of what's inside himself, and he quickly distracts and kills Seymour. He then tracks Delron to the local motel and kills him, too, rescuing Angie. He makes his way back to the city, tracking down and killing "Roy-L" and Jeff—killing Jeff because Jeff helped torture Greta. Severely wounded, Leo can't escape the police who arrive on the scene of the brutal firefight, and he realizes that dying is a lot harder than killing.
(Issues 6-10, May 07 - Nov 07) After an incident that began in a bar in Baghdad's Green Zone, Tracy Lawless served eighteen months in a military prison, isolated from contact with the outside world. Upon release, he discovers that his brother Ricky was killed nine months earlier, and he soon goes AWOL to find out what happened. On the way to the city, he stops at the Center City docks long enough to rob two men carrying a briefcase of illicit cash, shooting one in the process. He finds an old acquaintance named Jacob, a now-crippled criminal who specializes in creating false identities. Since he isn't recognized by Jacob, Tracy is confident he can infiltrate Ricky's old crew to discover why his brother was killed. Tracy finds the crew—Gray, Nelson, Davey, and Ricky's lover Mallory—meeting frequently at the Undertow in obvious anticipation of an upcoming heist. Tracy quietly introduces himself to certain criminals as Sam West, a "wheelman" looking for a score, and, after killing the crew's driver Davey, he approaches Gray and Mallory and tells them that he's "a guy who can drive." As the team gets ready for the upcoming score Tracy investigates his brothers death. This brings him closer to Mallory, who figures out his real identity. It is later revealed that it was Mallory who killed Ricky as he was too self-destructive and would beat her regularly. This makes Tracy kidnap Mallory during the heist leaving the rest of the crew to the police. During this chase Tracy is followed by men who work for Sebastian Hyde, who owned the money Tracy previously stole. After considering killing her Tracy lets Mallory go only for her to be kidnapped by Hydes men. This forces Tracy to meet Hyde, who wants retribution for his stolen money. Instead of having Mallory killed as revenge he lets her go and recruits Tracy into his outfit because his skills as a soldier would be useful.
"The Dead and the Dying"
(Vol. 2, issues 1- 3, Feb 08 - Apr 08) Three stand-alone interlocking stories set in 1972. The first centers around prizefighter Jake "Gnarly" Brown, and tells of how the Hydes came to be the crime bosses of the city. The second centers of Tracy Lawless's father Teegar, a newly return Vietnam war veteran and his involvement in a heist pulled under false pretenses. The third is centered on Danica, a femme fatale involved at various points with Jake, Lawless and Sebastian Hyde.
(Vol. 2, issues 4- 7, Jul 08 - Nov 08) This storyline enters around Jacob, the writer and artist of the 'Frank Kafka PI' newspaper strips which appeared in Coward and who made an appearance in Lawless. The insomniac and former counterfeiter gets drawn into a plan by a man and his girlfriend who want to impersonate an FBI agent.
(5 issues miniseries, Oct 2009 - Mar 2010)
After a wave of murders that target various high-profile, supposedly untouchable crime figures, Tracy Lawless is assigned to find the killers and stop them before a city-wide gang war erupts, while an Army CID agent arrives at Center City to capture the deserting Sgt. Lawless. He discovers a priest is using children to assassinate the "evil" in his city. Lawless is able to stop this scheme, but not until after Hyde is killed.
The Last of the Innocent
(4 issue miniseries, May 2011 - Aug 2011)
Owing money to a loan shark and discovering his wealthy wife is cheating on him, Riley decides to murder her and use her money to pay off his debt. The story is inspired by Archie Comics, and features several sequences drawn in the house style of that series.
"No One Rides for Free"
(5 page short story appearing in Liberty Comics #1)
Tracy shakes down a reporter who has written an exposé on Sebastian Hyde's corporate dealings.
"21st Century Noir"
(6 page short story appearing in Noir, a collection of short stories from Dark Horse)
A man meets a woman online, meets her for sex, and finds out about her abusive husband.
"Coward's Way Out"
An arc that Brubaker has mentioned multiple times since the end of Coward, but has not yet been published. It would be a follow up to Coward, and would be about Leo's escape from prison. Brubaker has indicated this arc may be told in the fifth volume of Criminal.
- Criminal Vol 1 #1
- Criminal Vol 1 #4
- Criminal Vol 1 #5
- Criminal Vol 1 #6
- Criminal Vol 1 #10
- Criminal Vol 2 #1
- Criminal Vol 2 #2
- Criminal Vol 2 #3
- Criminal Vol 3 #1
- Criminal vol 4 #1
- Criminal Vol 1 #10
- Criminal Vol 4 #1