The Last Winter graphic novel
Writers: Larry Fessenden & Robert Leaver
Artist/Cover artist: Brahm Revel
Layouts: James Felix McKenney
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $12.99 US
The importance of environmental issues has never been more prominent in the Western consciousness, which is surprising, since we’ve currently got American and Canadian administrations in power at the moment that seem, at times, downright hostile to green policies and practices. Storyteller Larry Fessenden has tapped into that heightened social and scientific awareness to arrive at this unusual eco-horror story. This is actually an adaptation of a 2006 film written and directed by Larry Fessenden. The writers used the storyboards from the film as the launching pad for this incarnation of the project, but it reads as though it was designed for the comics medium from the start. The mysterious and foreboding atmosphere that serves as a major draw here reminds me of the storytelling in such other comics as Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber’s Whiteout and Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s 30 Days of Night. The inclusion of a single color with the black-and-white artwork reinforces the cold, isolated nature of the backdrop, and the simpler tone of the artwork is nevertheless effective at achieving a realistic look and intriguing atmosphere.
North Industries has finally gotten the OK from Washington D.C. to begin oil exploration operations in a remote, almost untouched corner of Alaska. James Hoffman and his assistant are on site to prepare environmental impact assessments, but project manager Ed Pollack touches down like a whirlwind, eager to get things moving. Hoffman’s concerns about the thawing permafrost are getting in the company man’s way, but in reality, they’ve both got bigger problems. Something unusual is happening out on the frozen landscape, and it’s affecting the minds of everyone at camp. Hoffman wonders if nature itself is trying to repel their human invasion; little does he know that his ideas are much more than idle speculation.
I really enjoyed the look of Brahm Revel’s artwork on this book. His style reminds me of Paul (Potter’s Field) Azaceta’s work and a bit of that of Brian (Hard Time) Hurtt as well. I think there could have been a bit more distinction among the characters, especially between Hoffman and Elliot. I really like the organic look of the creatures that turned up at the end. Revel makes great use of inky shadows, greytones and the single, light blue shade to reinforce the tense and creepy atmosphere throughout the book. He manages to achieve a strong, realistic look as well with a fairly basic style. He has a strong eye for natural movement, which helps to convince the audience of the action.
The biggest star in the film upon which this book is based is Ron Perlman, Hellboy himself. He was cast in the role of Ed Pollack, the villain of the piece, and artist Brahm Revel has clearly worked to use his likeness. Unfortunately, it’s the look of the Pollack character in this book that’s the most distracting and weakest visual element. In short, his mustache and lips look too much alike. The character’s face is flat and lacks definition. Pollack’s depiction on the full-color cover is much stronger, perhaps because the color brings more definition into play. Speaking of the cover, it’s incredibly effective. Oddly enough, it doesn’t feature the main protagonist of the story, but the image sums up the tone of the story perfectly and lures potential readers to discover what’s bearing down on Pollack, why he’s scared and what mystery lies within the box in the background.
The notion of a social and environmental issue serving as the basis for a horror story strikes me as a particularly novel approach to the genre. I really enjoyed the psychological and spiritual danger that slowly creeps into the story. I was surprised that the threat becomes more overt and physical toward the end of the book; I think it would have been more interesting had Fessenden and Leaver left more to the readers’ imaginations, a la Blair Witch Project. Still, I can’t say the ending isn’t satisfactory. There’s a solid payoff, and it reinforces the cautionary tone on which the story begins. 8/10