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Winter City is a series co-written by Carl and Patrick Purcell (who also letters the book), drawn by Pablo Verdugo Muñoz, and colored by David Aravena Riquelme. Patrick was nice enough to send me the first three issues from the wilds of Mount Colah, New South Wales, which I thought was awfully decent of him. Each issue is $4.99, and I imagine they would be happy to sell them to you through their web site!
Winter City is one of those comics that isn’t great but wins you over because of the effort the creators put into it. The story so far is fairly simplistic: a hooded and robed vigilante is brutally killing people who were involved in a horrific crime some years ago and whose wealth makes them think they’re beyond justice. There are two detectives tracking the killer and trying to figure out what’s going on. And there’s a young man named Sam Winters who was abandoned at his uncle’s farm by his no-good mother. Sam is beaten by his uncle, who’s trying to turn him into a “real man,” and the implication is that Sam himself will grow up to be the vigilante (although by the end of issue #3, that’s certainly not completely clear, even though the web site confirms that it is in fact Sam). Sam’s scenes are set in the past, because Riquelme colors them in sepia tones and time passes more quickly in those scenes, so obviously it’s a “how this dude became a crazed killer” kind of flashback. The comic, Purcell told me, is a 12-issue series, so I imagine things will be a bit more complicated as we go along.
The Purcells might not give us too much that’s original, but they do manage to keep the story moving along nicely, trafficking in cop movie clichés but never letting us dwell too long on those clichés. If you’re going to have your characters talk in clichés, at least make sure the book is full-throttle so that we zip right by them. We get the main character – hero cop Marshal Daniels – and his partner – a hot redhead who so far only has a last name, unfortunately (it’s Harvey). They have no social life whatsoever, of course – it’s implied that Harvey just got out of a relationship that ended badly, but that’s it – and so far they don’t have much chemistry. Sam’s mother and her boyfriend, who appear only briefly in the first issue, are right out of Stereotypes 101, as is Sam’s uncle. Sam is perhaps the most interesting character in the book so far – he’s a terrified 7-year-old when he’s dropped off at his uncle’s farm, but by the third issue, he’s a tougher 12-year-old who can slaughter a pig without flinching but still lives in fear of his guardian. It seems like the Purcells are moving him toward standing up the his uncle in a violent manner, and if so, they’re doing a pretty good job with it. The police procedural part of the book is pretty standard, but I tend to enjoy police procedurals, so I enjoy seeing the police trying to figure out why the victims are being killed (even though we already know a bit about the motives, because the vigilante tells one of the victims).
One of the problems I had with the writing is that the Purcells don’t seem to have a good sense of where this book takes place, so the dialogue feels too scripted, as if it’s right out of any number of police shows on television. The Purcells work hard to keep any Australian idioms out of the script, which is perfectly fine, but because Winter City itself seems to exist in a comic-book “nowhere,” we don’t get a sense of place, and perhaps having Australian idioms in the scripting would have helped. When you’re telling this kind of story, there needs to be a hook that’s more than just the plot, because the plot has been done. So far, there’s no reason why Winter City should be set in a cold place, and perhaps making the city “Australian” and having people speak like Aussies would have made it a bit more interesting. I could be wrong, but it does need a bit more wit in the dialogue to make it rise above a plot-thick comic. There’s nothing wrong with devoting more time to the plot, but most readers have read a plot like this before, so it needs something more.
Muñoz and Riquelme do a pretty good job with the art. Muñoz is definitely influenced by Spawn-era McFarlane, but there’s no denying he has an energetic style that helps drive the book nicely. He’s quite good at violent images, which is handy in a book that is full of violent images, and his vigilante is weird and creepy. His page layouts are a bit too convoluted occasionally, but the fact that he tries to do different things leads to some very nice pages when the layouts do work. His linework is very busy, but it works because when we get to the farm, he pulls back just enough to create a feeling of, if not innocence (Uncle Norman is not innocent in the least), at least of a different kind of ugliness. Unlike the writers, we do get a good sense of Winter City from the artwork – it’s a messy, dirty town shrouded in darkness, giving the vigilante a good place to work. Riquelme, as I mentioned, colors the farm scenes in sepia tones, which makes it a bit more bucolic yet still dirty. The colors are obviously darker in the city, but Riquelme does a good job turning it into a disturbing place, with queasy greens often dominating his palette. We might not know where Winter City is, but the artists give us a good idea of what kind of town it is.
Obviously, I’m not getting the entire story with the three issues I read, so I don’t want to go too far in one direction or the other with my assumptions. I can Mildly Recommend the three issues, because while I can see the obvious flaws in the book, I can also see the potential of it. With nine issues to go, I imagine the story will take some weird turns, and I hope that they will be worthwhile twists. So far, the book is a fairly standard police procedural with a horror twist, with characters that aren’t really all that well developed yet and a plot point that looks – and again, I could be wrong – obvious. Even though the art style is very much like we’ve seen too often in bad Image books, Muñoz seems to have the chops to handle all the characters and locations that the Purcells want him to. He’s better right now than some artists who are actually working for DC, and he brings a ton of energy to the story. Winter City certainly isn’t perfect, but it zips along confidently, and it seems like the Purcells are working toward something big. I do hope they’re able to finish it!
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