‘Winterworld: Better Angels, Colder Hearts’ – TPB Review

It was almost thirty years ago that comic book readers were first introduced to an icy Earth environment, a man named Scully, and his companion Rah-Rah the badger in Winterworld, a post-apocalyptic tale penned by comic book writer Chuck Dixon and illustrated by Jorge Zaffino. A follow-up story arc was unrealized and, eventually, the series went out of print. Fortunately, IDW released the original story as well as the sequel a handful of years ago which has led to the series' rejuvenation. Winterworld: Better Angels, Colder Hearts is the latest IDW title that includes four Dixon tales that were originally published as Winterworld #0-7 and Winterworld: Frozen Fleet #1-3.

Winterworld showcases Dixon's phenomenal storytelling. His style is not overburdened with extraneous words; he is succinct and, as a result, the story is riveting. In many of the opening chapter scenes, Dixon's cadenced narrative is minimalistic, yet eloquently captures the essence of the toll of the barren and dangerous world made on the human psyche. The human story is the foundation, and no where does Dixon deliver that aspect than with Scully and Wynn. The banter between them reads with ease and feels natural, as though they are two living people who have been together a long time. Dixon deftly manages their relationship; in the first story titled “La Nina,” Wynn playfully tests that boundary, while Scully gruffly responds that he prefers to be a loner, while considering Wynn like a little sister. Over the four stories, they encounter challenges to their relationship; they prove that their friendship is thicker than blood and they always strive to have each other's backs.

Illustrator Butch Guice leads off in “La Nina,” and his illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. The face of the girl looking back over her shoulder in the opening scene is beautiful, and, further in, he establishes a contemporary visual standard for the series. His ability to convey a cold environment so well – look at how he works in the snowflakes in his panels – shows that there is a fluidity to his style. Complementing Guice's art is Diego Rodriguez's colors. There's so much blue that the various shades keep the visuals fresh and result in the other colors being used to pop onto the icy landscape. When there's blood, it's overwhelming and shocks the eyes; the violence weights down the pauses before moving on to the next panel and scene.

Letterers Robbie Robbins and Tom B. Long round out the creative team on the first story. The narrative boxes are slick with the gradual color fade, and the speech bubbles have readable fonts. The placement of the bubbles and particularly the narrative boxes pace the reader’s eyes so the words pack more punch, especially in the establishing scenes at the beginning of many of the chapters.

“The Stranded” is the second story, and Tomas Giorello takes over the interiors for Guice, while Rodriguez and Robbins return to complete the creative team. Giorello's artistic style complements, yet does not plagiarize, Guice's style. Giorello departs from the fluidity that one recognizes with Guice's work and instead explores more facial studies, more detailing and shading with the clothes and generally more cursory details of the environment. And, on further inspection, there is a softness to Giorello's work, in part from his style, but also from Rodriguez's lighter, muted colors employed. Robbins' lettering remains constant between the first and second tales, although he does seem to detour with the sound effects text that doesn't seem as animated or perhaps affected by the sound it is referencing.

The third story, “Wynn's Tale,” is in stark opposition to the prior two stories. Given the industrial setting of this story, Tommy Lee Edwards' bold black lines and textures and limited color palette exude dominance and mirror the aggressiveness of the storyline. In addition, the high contrast of color between the icy environment and the various interiors – rig and factory for example – allows Edwards to emphasize the helplessness of Wynn and the other children in the face of their gun-toting captors. And since the majority of the story is a flashback, the distinctive style sets it apart from Guice, Giorello, and Polls' stories.

Regrettably, the digital copy caused John Workman's lettering to appear rather hazy and difficult to read. The orange narrative boxes carry over Edwards' palette, but they were not as aesthetically pleasing as Robbins' work in the first two tales, nor Shawn Lee's in the last story. The block font sound effects worked with the setting, but felt flat against the unfolding action.

A Gerardo Zaffino cover opens the concluding “Frozen Fleet” story of this trade paperback. In this last story, Esteve Polls' art style aligns more towards the Guice and Giorello illustrative style, and this decision makes sense since Polls' story rejoins with the continuing story arc that includes Trina and Reynolds. While Polls excels at the action sequences and establishing shots, there are a few continuity issues. For example, sometimes Wynn has a band of freckles across her nose and cheeks and at other times, there are none.

Rodriguez returns on colors, and it seems that with Polls' interiors, Rodriguez expanded his palette to include richer deep blues of the ocean, blue-green for the truck's interior shots, and browns for the tankers and a few of the establishing shots. Lee steps in on lettering and his touch is similar to Robbins. The text is easy to read and does not draw attention to itself, except of course to read it. 

The last ten or so pages are reproductions of individual issue covers from Jorge and Gerardo Zaffino, Will Rosado, Butch Guice, and Tomas Giorello. Getting to see the covers side by side reveals the differences in artistic styles and interpretations, which was fascinating.

Winterworld: Better Angels, Colder Hearts is an engrossing and riveting entry that further explores the world that Scully and Wynn navigate and seek to survive on a daily basis. As a result, Dixon's stories are entertaining, yet gripping, because of his focus on the relationship of two individuals to each other and to their environment. There's backstory not covered in this book so some references will be lost, but that fact does not impact the overall enjoyment of the stories. Hence, this is a standalone title; however, it might inspire new readers to delve into the other Winterworld titles which is highly recommended and will be sure to reward the initiated reader.

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