Comics

The Winter Men

shathley Q

Can a six-issue story work when told over a four year span?


The Winter Men

Publisher: Wildstorm
Writer: Brett Lewis
Issues: 1-5, The Winter Men Winter Special
Contributors: artist: J. P. Leon, letterer: John Workman
Formats: Single Issues
First date: 2005-10-14
US publication date: 2009-02-06
Last date: 2009-02-06
cat_label_url
Writer website
Amazon

What's cyberpunk about? "Hi-tech, low-life." It's a favorite saying of Bruce Sterling, one of the founding fathers of cyberpunk. In the '80s cyberpunk was just the dystopian shot in the arm that science fiction needed to make it culturally relevant again. But Brett Lewis and J. P. Leon's The Winter Men exposes a deep, utopian yearning in even the battered heart of cyberpunk as we now arrive at "post-tech, low-life". In the blighted landscape of Lewis' post-Soviet Russia, it's not a question of old versus new technology. It's that technology no longer matters.

The Winter Men tracks the lives of four super-soldiers living out wounded destinies in the wake of Soviet-era military experiments. The series is at once a high-budget action movie, a terse psychodrama, a gritty, international crime thriller, an urban superhero blockbuster and a meditation on nationalist loyalties in the post-national condition. Underlining all of these story-modes however, The Winter Men is the Icarus myth writ large. With ideological certainties decimated, the book’s characters, Kalenov, Drost, Nikki and Nina are left to wonder at their predicament. Which was worse, before or after the Fall of Communism?

Plumbing the same depths as Kurt Vonnegut's Mother Night, the protagonists seek out happy oblivion by erasing their sense of self. Policeman, solider, gangster, bodyguard, each actor hopes for their adopted personas to become the reality. Lewis demonstrates incredible skill in connecting the absence of ideology through personal nihilism with the irrelevance of technology.

Despite its intellectual range, The Winter Men faces a unique challenge. Originally planned for release in 2003, the series only saw publication in October of 2005. Billed as an eight-issue limited series, the title was first reduced to six, then five issues. The series was fraught with publication delays. The fourth issue appeared six months after the opening three monthlies, and the fifth issue, five months after that. The series finally concluded in the February 2009 "Winter Special", more than three years after originally commencing. The true test of The Winter Men then is the gambit of its publication schedule.

One of the elements of The Winter Men that definitely works in its favor is the consummate skill of its crafting. Letterer John Workman offers something that is simply impossible; pages of 1,500-plus word count that are a joy to read. Captions point to the tattoos and post-its they translate, while others swirl like the tears that follow a goodbye letter. Workman's sensibility evokes memories of Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov. A staunch constructivist, Vertov firmly held that a medium's artifice should be seen by its audience. Workman seems to concur, believing that Comic book readers should be aware that they are reading a comic book. His work serves to elevate Leon's magnificently frustrated art. Frustrated by time, by fate, by the capital of necessary compromise, Leon's artwork offers a clinical quietus for Lewis' existentialist wrestlings.

As writer, Lewis' own art is no less finely-crafted. His story is developed in clear stages. The first three issues, which arrived monthly, develop the plot like a sleek, international thriller. Moscow beat cop and former Soviet-era super-soldier Kris Kalenov is ordered to investigate the seemingly innocuous kidnapping of a little girl. On a whirlwind world-tour that includes Brooklyn social clubs and Siberian factories, Kalenov gathers up remaining members of his former team: Drost the solider, Nikki the gangster and Nina the celebrity bodyguard. Wrapped into the tale are rogue Spetsnaz elements, CIA agents with corporate agendas and a host of unsavory political motivations. And of course, there is a shocking denouement. The kidnapped girl has had her liver weaponized by Winter scientists. The third issue closes with a hasty assault on a Chechen factory.

With the first three issues, Lewis proves himself a skilled writer, plotting a solid three act structure. It's a romp of an actioner, well worth the cover price. But Lewis' masterstroke comes with his subtle shift in his narrator's position. With the first three issues, Kalenov recounts events for an unidentified CIA agent. But it is a story told for an American, by a Russian. It's filled with slips, evasions and heroics. In the closing issues, Kalenov mentally rearranges his earlier omissions and lapses, while living through their ramifications. "Citizen Soldiers" and "Boy Scouts" show the shocking ease with which Soviet-era intelligence networks have become capitalist mafia. Issues four and five are filled with reversals, betrayals and morally complex rescues and murders. All of which build to an almost anonymous confrontation with a superhuman who refuses state control.

But given its publication schedule, does The Winter Men deliver? This question cuts to the heart of the story itself. The Winter Men is not a thrill-ride of pulp-style adventure. It is slow. And lingering. It is not unlike falling asleep in the cold and risking hypothermia. But it is rewarding. And like the ideological and technological collapsar it paints, it is ultimately an experience worth having. The vast publication breaks correspond well with Lewis' phased storytelling. Counter-intuitively then, The Winter Men probably won't benefit from a one-sitting read as a collected trade paperback. The publishing breaks were the moving parts of the series. These breaks gave readers that sense of the collapse of both hope and fear, and the rise of nihilist self-reliance.

6

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image