That Robert Kirkman is a talent to be admired and envied. Most creators would surely be resting on their laurels after coming up with a success like The Walking Dead, with over 20 graphic novels and counting, yet moving from horror to superheroes, Invincible is every bit as good. And his effort at kids comics, Super Dinosaur, delivers as well. So now he’s turned his hand to crime, and guess what? Yup, Thief of Thieves is a very recommendable crime caper first time out.

It should be noted that Kirkman is collaborating. The pattern over the first three books of the series is that he comes up with the plot, then turns it over to another writer, in this case Nick Spencer. Based on the more straightforward following books it would seem to be Spencer who’s broken the plot down, and he’s heightened the basic premise via jumping back and forth over the years.

Conrad Paulson is, as the series title suggests, a master thief, who uses the alias ‘Redmond’. He’s a meticulous planner, and the rules by which he lives are laid out in the narrative, much in the manner of Parker. There is a relatively slow start as we come to know Redmond, and discover how he first came to partner Celia, yet there’s enough sparkle to pull you to the next chapter, which provides a greater emotional resonance. Paulson has reached a stage in his life when he’s finally realised the cost of his career, as successful as it may have been, and quits.

Equally well characterised is FBI agent Elizabeth Cohen, who’s been chasing Redmond for years, is convinced he’s Paulson, and at times has risked her own career playing fast and loose with orders in order to pull off the coup of arresting him. She’s now finally found the leverage she needs.

As soon as any regular fan of crime material sees the I Quit subtitle, there’s the knowledge that matters aren’t going to play out to plan, and so it is. Yet misdirection is key here, with the writers cleverly exploiting an artistic deficiency of many comics, and gleefully prompting then shredding expectation at every opportunity. There is a downside, an incident integral to Redmond’s formation as a character that may provide a dramatic visual, but doesn’t really convince as the way anyone would behave in that situation. It’s a blip, though, and at the end, take a pause to contemplate how neatly everything else has been pulled together.

This wouldn’t be possible without a good artist, and Shawn Martinbrough is that man. By definition crime capers require long expository sections, and his proficiency ensures these look as accomplished as the remainder of the book. His cast wear their clothes, and are distinctively designed. A technique that works well is telling portions of the story via long horizontal panels that switch back and forth between scenes.

By the conclusion we’ve come to know Redmond and what motivates him, and the enthusiasm is high for the next book Help Me. Or more correctly, “Help Me.” as all book titles are the briefest of evocative quotes from within.