“You did inspire Kiril, Piotr. You inspired him to be nothing like you.”
Set in Russia, Crude is a brutal revenge thriller with heart. Written by Steve Orlando, drawn by Garry Brown, colored by Lee Loughridge and lettered by Thomas Mauer, the book is a very potent mix of action and emotional drama.
The book opens in the city of Vladimir, with Piotr Petrovich and his family. We meet his wife, Valentina and his son, Kiril. Piotr is an assassin who pretends to be a regular insurance salesman. He keeps to his secrets and pain, unwilling to share, unwilling to open himself up or be vulnerable in any fashion. His demeanor creates walls between himself and others, as his son grows to resent his distant father.
Now grown up, Kiril refuses to even refer to him as ‘father’ and calls Piotr by his name. He wants little to do with Piotr and is angered by what his generation has done and how it operates. He vows to Piotr that he will be nothing like him, before leaving him for good. A bisexual and polyamorous man, Kiril merely wants to live without judgement and oppression. He wants what all of us want– to live freely and love freely. But in the world and system he’s forced to reside in, it’s not only impossibly difficult but incredibly dangerous to do so.
Dreading the notion of being like his father, lonely and dishonest, Kiril makes the decision to work at Blackstone. A dangerous refinery city, Blackstone is a place with great potential rewards that come with the risk of being there. But above all, Kiril feels it’s a place where they do not care about who you are, or perhaps who you love. But a year after his departure, Kiril returns home to Vladimir, in a body bag. Valentina, Piotr’s estranged wife and Kiril’s mother, blames Piotr for the fate of their son. She tells Piotr that he’s a man Kiril could never trust or respect and that he gave Kiril nowhere to feel home at, leading him to his desperate choice. Burdened with guilt, Piotr goes to see the corpse of his son.The team gives us a gorgeous page with a 9-panel grid here with Piotr processing the sight of his dead son, with a bullet in his head. It’s a somber, horrifying moment and Garry Brown and Lee Loughridge bring out all of its haunting power in this sequence. Brown, throughout the book, beyond just this scene, is a master of expression and emotion, with Loughridge being his perfect companion. It’s minimalistic but charged with energy and rich meaning, fitting the title perfectly. Orlando’s script makes effective use of this as the words “…This is your son?” echo through every panel, emphasizing the state Piotr is in. And it’s really this moment that propels us forward into the larger narrative of Crude, whilst being a perfect encapsulation of the story it’s telling.
Piotr decides to journey to Blackstone to find out what truly happened to his son. Being an ex-assassin, he plans to enact vengeance on any and all who harmed him. It’s really the story of fathers and sons, about mistakes that can never be undone, about the past that can’t be fixed and the anger that emerges from that. But more importantly, it’s about the terribly damaging effects of toxic masculinity.
Arriving at Blackstone, Piotr finds a desolate place full of factions warring for control and people struggling to survive. There’s Petropinnacle, the powerful organization with a grip on Blackstone and their opposite, Meshe Adam. And in the midst of the two, Prava.
Piotr slowly begins to makes his way through the complex web of the cruel society that is Blackstone. Assimilating into the place, he begins a crusade as a shirtless vigilante with mud obscuring his features. He hands out vengeance to anyone and everyone daring to come in his path of truth and payback. It’s the only way the ex-assassin knows to grieve, with every beating and passing moment weighing on him, as he’s reminded of his son and how his own actions doomed him. By the end of quest for answers, he finds Maria and Kostya, the two founders of Prava and finally learns of Kiril’s fate. Kiril was the true founder of Prava, a movement to set right Blackstone and deliver on its promise, the one he initially believed in. But being found out and blackmailed by the Meshe Adam group, he is led to his death. He is shot down by Petropinnacle members as a suicide bomber wearing a suicide vest, used as a pawn in the cruel game of Blackstone.
Piotr is shaken by the revelations as everything he thought he knew about his son is re-contextualized. He learns of Kiril being bisexual and polyamorous, involved with Kostya and Maria and realizes that he ran because he couldn’t hide who he was like Piotr could. The truth hits Piotr hard and for the first time in his life and for once, he begins to open up. He begins to cry and show vulnerability, something he’s spent all his life trying not to, trying to avoid.
Blackstone still remains in chaos after Piotr’s work as a vigilante and thus all the players are laid out on the board. Most importantly however, we get to know who the true master of Blackstone really is. It’s Ivan Kirpichnii, the leader of Meshe Adam and the head of Petropinnacle. One man running both sides, playing both sides, creating an engine of conflict, suffering and despair, from which only he reaps profits. And there is no better representation of toxic masculinity and its damages in the book than Ivan. He goes on tirades about how a ‘man’ really ought to be, about how many women he’s been with and how strong and mighty he is. He reveals that Kostya is his biological son but that he only brings shame to his name by simply loving who he does. Ranting about gay men in an absolutely repugnant and hateful speech, he goes as far as to ask Piotr ‘Who would want such a child?’ to which Piotr responds “…I would”. Piotr’s eyes are full of conviction and purpose as he answers.
We then witness a brutal action sequence as Piotr beats Ivan through the Petropinnacle offices for all to see. Piotr lets Ivan know that he is no father and that he does not deserve his child. With every punch or kick, he beats his truth into Ivan until he finally dies.
Having completed his quest, Piotr has a final farewell with Kostya and Maria and it’s here that the book succinctly summarizes what the entire story’s been about. Piotr confesses to them “I’m…glad Kiril loved you both. I thought Blackstone was what you said–revenge. A chance to leave whoever killed Kiril facing the dirt. But really…it was a chance to learn. Thank you…”.
Crude is a wild and visceral action thriller that delves into sexuality, identity, toxic masculinity and father-son relationships in meaningful ways. Framed as a revenge story, it manages to be an incredibly effective examination of its lead character. Even the brilliant flashbacks (colored marvelously well by Loughridge) fit in perfectly with the story being told, being snippets of the past that you can never get back but keep going back to. This is a ride you don’t want to miss.
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