Thursday, August 18, 2005

Comics I'm Reading: WINTERMEN.

One of the real great conversations I had at SDCon Was with John Paul Leon, the artist of lots of stuff like Earth X, X-men, Challengers of the Unknown and now The Wintermen. It is really compelling in both the art and story departments. The short story? It's a great #1. The long version? Keep readin'...

A 'postmodern" superhero book set in today's ex-Soviet Russia, The Wintermen by Brett Lewis and John Paul Leon tries to bring to the average superhero fan a cursory education in what it's like for the underbelly of Moscow to rule the entire beast. The main character, Kris Kalenkov, is a former Soviet "Rocket-Soldier"; an elite group of Soviet super-soldiers who were very active during the cold war- now defunct. Kalenkov is now a policeman- which in this particular time in Russian history means being a lapdog of the corrupt authority. He is a law officer of his changing world; Tired, bitter and prone to hangovers.

Kalenkov's Mosccow- 2005 is a city limping on a wounded leg into the 21st century. Law and Order are shared responsibilities of various factions; ex-secret police and ex-military with real polizei in the unfortunate middle. Mobsters act as the only "civilian" authority (all well researched and true of current state of affairs in Moscow). The excesses and egomania of mafia-kingpins who have, post-Yeltsin, managed to bleed their City dry of money as well as hope is personified in the character, Mayor Boss- an ambiguous but certainly sinister man, turned "man of the people" who sees himself as the 21st century's Fiorello LaGuardia. Mayor Boss is representative of many of the characters in The Wintermen- capable of both darkness and a reluctant likability.

The story centers around Kalenkov's latest case- the kidnapping of a young child ( who may be superhuman) and murdring of her babysitter. Kalenkov is reluctant to investigate but as it's his job, he becomes engaged by the mystery. Very quickly the trail leads to uncomfortable liasons with the CIA, GRU and Kalenkov is paid extra money to follow the trail to the heart of the American Russian MAFIYA in New York City.

I've been a big fan of Leon's art for a looong time and I'm very happy to say that this is the same old JPL only better. Although my only visual connection/memory of Moscow are photo websites and magazines- its seems to be very well researched and accurate. The best thing about JPL though in this book , or any others, is his ability to flesh out the enviroment and carachters of a story with a minimum of detail. A bush man by trade, his inks are lush and illustrative without being overbearing. Great care goes into not overloading the art with big black areas, which can be an overused trademark of Leon's, allowing Dave Stewart's sublime and moody coloring to have equal time. Before I'm accused of being art-o-centric- Brett Lewis's plot and particularly dialogue is compelling and has a real sound in my head as I read it. My only other response to the book is- what if there were no super/sci-fi trappings to the book? It seems as if it would be equally entertaining. But this is Lewis and Leon at the wheel; best we just sit and take in the ride.

Although this is a story that will probably be better served after compiling into a TPB (first-run TPB must happen someday! Who will be gutsy enough to try??), but what the hell, give yourself a literate, well drawn and colored treat.

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