Launching into the comics industry as a cartoonist, Brubaker spent the late 1980s writing and drawing for Blackthorne Comics and Slave Labour Graphics. In 1991 he started writing his semi-autobiographical series Lowlife for Caliber Comics and submitting crime fiction stories to Dark Horse Comics for their Dark Horse Presents serial. Collaborating with artist Eric Shanower he wrote the three-issue story arc An Accidental Death (Dark Horse Presents #65-67), earning the two creators a 1993 Eisner Award nomination. Brubaker continued to write for the serial throughout the decade, even as his career took him to greater heights. Collaborating with Shanower again in '95 Brubaker wrote Prez: Smells Like Teen President, a satirical piece published by the DC imprint Vertigo for mature readers. In 1997 he approached Alternative Comics with his cartooning work. They published the first issue of his proposed experimental series Detour that year, but never more than that. The series never continued, despite having garnered him an Harvey Award nomination for Best New Series. Further work under the Vertigo label in 1999 partnered Brubaker for the first time with Michael Lark and Sean Phillips. Together they created the four-issue limited series Scene of the Crime, landing Brubaker his second and third Eisner nominations.The following year he signed his first exclusive contract (with DC) and began his first work on Batman.
Brubaker is known for applying a crime-fiction style to his comics writing. This flavour has appealed to the editors of some of DC and Marvel's more street-level titles, and Brubaker subsequently found himself working in years to come alongside writers Greg Rucka, Brian Michael Bendis, and Matt Fraction to develop some of comics most beloved icons. Given Batman as his first subject, he found his crime style more than a match for the world's greatest detective. His work with the character continued into late 2003, furthering his love of the crime genre and culminating in the noir masterpiece Gotham Central, brought to visual reality by the pencils of Michael Lark and co-written with Rucka. Along with artist Darwyn Cook, Brubaker was given the task in 2001 of revamping the character of Catwoman, leading the duo to pen the Trail of the Catwoman story arc (Detective Comics #759-762) in which significant changes were made to her costume, supporting cast, and modus operandi, resulting in the character many modern readers are familiar with.
Vertigo brought Brubaker back in the early 2000's to work on two smaller titles: the sci-fi Deadenders (with artist Warren Pleece), and a continuation of Neil Gaiman's groundbreaking work with Sandman Presents: the Dead Boy Detectives. Paired with his love of crime fiction is a love of the macabre; in a panel with Greg Rucka at the 2012 Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, Brubaker pegged H.P.Lovecraft as an early inspiration to his writing, a muse well suited to Gaiman's mythos.
In 2002 he co-wrote a 2-issue Batman story arc with Geoff Johns, titled Death-wish For Two (Batman #606-607)
Set to work on yet another DC imprint, Wildstorm, Brubaker picked up the series Point Blank in 2002 with illustrator Colin Wilson, using it as a springboard for his next project with Sean Phillips debuting later that year. Sleeper proved to be a prime example of Brubaker's love of intrigue and espionage, featuring a spy as the protagonist and dealing with moral ambiguities and the trials of an undercover character caught in the middle. The series was unsuccessful by industry standards and only ran to its twelfth issue in 2003. A year later the creative team was reassigned to Sleeper: Season Two, again a limited 12-issue run but providing readers with what appeared to be a definitive conclusion to the storyline. Brubaker went on to work on The Authority, producing a single special issue title with Jim Lee and a 12-issue run with artist Dustin Nguyen.
No longer bound by exclusivity agreements to DC, Brubaker began writing for Marvel's Captain America title in 2004 (he would sign an exclusivity agreement with Marvel in 2005). Starting the series anew from issue #1 and working with artist Steve Epting he added new villains to the title and resurrected James "Bucky" Barnes as a new character, The Winter Soldier. The title was a critical success. Brubaker stayed on as writer with Cap for eight years, carrying the character through the Civil War and his assassination in the Death of Captain America story arc. He brought the hero back from the dead in Reborn, working with British illustrator Bryan Hitch. He has stayed with the title through many limited series and side projects. Following the Marvel Siege event he began a new Secret Avengers title, which he wrote for twelve issues before passing it on to Nick Spencer in June 2011. April 2012 he started writing a new Winter Soldier title and in December of the same year wrote his last Captain America issue, leaving the title to focus on his creator-owned exploits. His work on Winter Soldier ended with the March 2013 issue, and the title passed to writer Jason LaTour.
2006 was a busy year for Brubaker. Having signed an exclusivity agreement with Marvel which had permitted him to bring his Gotham Central run to a definitive close with The Dead Robin Conclusion in December 2005, he turned his full energy to his new employer. He was immediately engaged in two limited series: Books of Doom with artist Pablo Raimondi, and X-Men: Deadly Genesis with Trevor Hairsine and Scott Hanna, restructuring a post-House of M world for the Marvel mutant community. In April of that year acclaimed Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis handed him the reins to Daredevil. This development had been a long time in the planning, though the creators' original plans for a Batman/Daredevil crossover were never realized. Bendis ended his run with Matt Murdock behind bars. Bringing long-time collaborator Michael Lark to the title with him, Brubaker began exploring the implications of Daredevil's imprisonment and the possibilities for his future (Daredevil #82). The title under Brubaker's penmanship soon reached critical acclaim, and earned him both the Eisner and Harvey awards for Best Writer in 2007. He stayed with the title until October 2009, leaving issue #500, The Return of the King: Conclusion, as parting words.
His work alongside Matt Fraction on The Immortal Iron Fist, from November 2006 to June 2008, garnered him a 2008 Eisner Award for Best Writer. The series rapidly became one of Marvel's most popular titles, though Fraction only stayed with the title for a further two months before passing it off to Duane Swierczynski.
Life of Crime
As previously stated, 2006 was a busy year for Brubaker. In October of that year he started a creator-owned title, published under the Marvel imprint Icon, entitled Criminal. His partner in crime was British illustrator Sean Phillips with whom he had collaborated in 1999 on Scene of the Crime. Phillips shared Brubaker's love of crime fiction, and they set out together to create what might be today's most prominent crime comic.
The publication history of the title has been unusual yet well-planned. Starting in October 2006 it ran for 10 issues, took a hiatus, and returned in February 2008 for another 7 issues. After a second hiatus 5 more issues were released 2009-2010, and another 4 in 2011. These four publication periods represent 6 separate story arcs collected in 6 corresponding trade paperback volumes, chronologically: Coward, Lawless, The Dead and the Dying, Bad Night, The Sinners, and The Last of the Innocent. This was not, however, the only crime comic in the works by Brubaker and Phillips. During that second hiatus they published the first 6 issues of a new title, Incognito, and 5-issue follow-up during their late 2010 break from Criminal. Having completed all of this by the end of 2011, the powerhouse creative duo announced their intent to publish one more set of Criminal stories, after they had put together a 12-issue supernatural noir narrative. That arc, titled Fatale, came to a close in February 2013, leaving what readers can hope is more crime fiction looming large on the horizon.
In light of Brubaker's past career, even up to 2006, it's no surprise that he realized his own passion for the crime genre eventually. What is perhaps most impressive in these titles is the overwhelming respect that he carries for the genre. He takes great care in doing justice to the pulp tradition that first inspired him as a writer, and that care is apparent in his work. His exploration of the crime/superhero dynamic has been unprecedented; from Gotham Central right through to Fatale his interest has been focused on the street-level happenings of the superhero's realm. With the end of his Winter Soldier in March 2013 he left himself seemingly unemployed; it was the only title he was working on at the time, but men like Brubaker are never idle. There is more Criminal to come.