We all imagine scenarios in daydreams where we can be the hero of a story. Whether it be protecting everyone you work with in an incredibly likely scenario of a mass shooting, or stumbling on some kind of discovery that advances medicine or science in some incredible way, or you just meet someone who is where you were years ago and you're able to help navigate a tricky part of their life. Whatever the problem, it is usually nebulous - just the idea of a "bad thing" that you can prevent or cure. We don't fill in the true shape of that bad thing, because then it walks out of the realm of a power fantasy and becomes something dark, almost like you're willing the scenario into being. We don't put a face on the person who will try to kill us, and if we ever find ourselves in that situation, we will understandably be unable to process truly just what we'd do. Rich Douek and Alex Cormack began their tale with a somewhat amorphous enemy, the Russian Gulag, and though there were faces we could see, the threat itself was indistinct, something of a creeping horror. Now, of course, we have our face, the terrible secret place that we'll never allow ourselves to dream about, the place where reality becomes unreal to us.
Pacing is a tricky thing to nail when telling a story. You have a story that you're excited to tell, and you have to lay out the pieces in a rhythm that pushes your reader to want more, while doling out enough to keep them engaged throughout. Now, this issue has already received a second printing by the time I'm writing this review, so I'm going to go a little more in-depth to the content of the book than I do for a preview, so be warned that spoilers may follow. The last issue ended on a cliffhanger of Grigori preparing to kill Roman for food. This issue opens with Sergei receiving a bloody offering from a figure we can't identify. The implications are frustratingly tantalizing, as we could assume two outcomes, but we're not sure which we really want. We then travel back to find that Roman hid from the other two and they plod on unaware of what they'll do now. It's a fantastic technique to build the tension of the issue, and it's done brilliantly. Whereas so many episodes of sci-fi shows lose me as soon as I see a dramatic moment followed by "x hours/days ago," this is using literal foreshadowing in the best possible way, because though I'm sure we all have our favorites, we're not really that attached to these characters yet, and the journey of getting to the teased storyline is still incredibly fascinating. I love watching Grigori falling apart in the wilderness, watching his tough guy persona being shredded by the simple nothingness around him. "What the %&*$ do I do here? Steal the snow? Stab the wind?" It's not only satisfying to see the most powerful character thus far lose his status so spectacularly, but it also made me kind of root for him. It proves a wonderful balance to strike as a writer.
Cormack is the absolute perfect person to be drawing this world. His landscapes capture the bleakness of the land with such an aching precision, and he knows how to let the white of the page itself do so much of the work. He keeps every background subtle and understated, not fighting the characters even though it's the obstacle for all of them, and that deft touch means that even a panel where we simply see characters and blank whiteness behind them, it somehow becomes more menacing. It's a master class in knowing what you want to achieve and using restraint to get there. We are also privy to our fist true action sequence in this issue, and the tangle between our three protagonists is accomplished with undeniable precision. Knowing the scene that's coming without know exactly what it means makes the struggle even more engaging than what sits on the page now. Letting the story build this way is so powerful and makes for a great read. If there's one element I can call unparalleled in his work, it is the ability to create an evocative and plot-supporting final panel. So far, each one has been nothing short of perfect and makes me want to dive immediately into the next issue.
So many people have joined this team in the Siberian wilderness, and it's awesome to see. These are the kinds of stories that allow us permission to consider the truly horrible and recognize ourselves in the situation. It makes you question just who you are inside and what you might consider in the same scenario. This is a mirror that reflects the desperation and the animal instincts that sit below all the civilization and nonsense that we try to hide when we're allowed to stop thinking about how fragile and delicate a thing our social contracts truly are. If we can't make amends to our planet, how long until this kind of thing steps from the pages of imagination and academic musing to our reality? Hopefully never, but, damn, it's a fine tale for us now.
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Creative Team: Rich Douek (Writer), Alex Cormack (Artist), Justin Birch (Letterer)
Publisher: IDW Pubilshing
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