The Winter Men #1–5 and The Winter Men Winter Special by Brett Lewis and John Paul Leon
I had heard many good things about this series – mostly from the comic book blogger of good taste, Johnny Bacardi – but it had a very sporadic publishing history, originally starting in 2005 as an eight-issue series before turning into a six-issue series some time in 2006 before stopping at issue 5 and finally concluding in the Winter Special in 2009. I’m glad I waited for the trade.
This is an amazing story that I can’t believe didn’t float to the surface of comic book conversation; I also wonder how Brett Lewis produced such a great series seemingly out of nowhere and hasn’t really produced anything else subsequently. The Winter Men was the name of the ‘rocket soldiers’ who were the Russian deterrent against superhuman threat – there is a great propaganda sequence at the start of the book about the Russian superhuman – and there a only a few left: Kalenov (the policeman), Drost (the soldier), Nikki (the gangster), Nina (the bodyguard) and The Siberian. The story follows Kalenov as he gets involved in various investigations and interactions with his former colleagues, the mayor of Moscow, the CIA and others, which obviously involves conspiracies and links back to the original Winter Men.
Everything about this book is really, really good. John Paul Leon is on blistering form; he has always been a good artist but this seems to match his sensibilities perfectly, the noir atmosphere, the moodiness of the Russian milieu, the grittiness of the characters. You feel you are in Russia, with the snow and the claustrophobic feel of the city and even the look of the people. His shadows and line work seem engraved on the page, and his work even improves from the first five issues to the special issue several years later, always the sign of a good artist. His art is matched by the lettering of the marvellous John Workman, always a sign of excellence on a comic book.
The main excellence is from Lewis – the story is really good, complex and intricate, but the dialogue and the sense of this being a Russian story are fantastic. There is none of that silly faux-Russian speech of broken English; the dialogue just feels Russian, the turn of phrase feeling suitably alien but also believable. Kalenov’s narration has that same sense of being actual Russian translated into English, but in a noir sensibility, with his wry, world-weary attitude coming across strongly. There is also the sense of an amazing amount of research to get everything about the Russian aspect completely right, and Lewis brings across the nature of existence in the former Soviet Union, the nature of the people in this vast country who have suffered yet believe in the Mother Land. It’s a truly great piece of writing, telling a thrilling tale in interesting arena, and you should really get your hands on a copy if at all possible.