Review by Karl Verhoven
Anyone who’s come this far should know what to expect. Each volume of Ice Cream Man supplies four smart horror stories crossing into a number of other genres, written by W. Maxwell Prince and beautifully drawn by Martín Marazzo no matter what the setting. They’ll be clever, very clever like the opening story of missing Ice Cream Men, a noir crime drama in which a down at heel private eye nods to Watchmen as a side dish, and the possibility that it ties into the bigger picture of who Ice Cream Man is. That’s just a possibility, though, as for maximum enjoyment it’s advisable not to become concerned with the nuts and bolts.
Over the series Prince has found so many ways to connect his stories with something else, or build them around something, such as a 24 page story about the 24 days of the Advent calendar. That concerns Julie, eighteen and the daughter of a resolutely Catholic mother, bearing the residual guilt of that upbringing, who discovers she’s pregnant. The story is told in single page chapters, and as seen on the sample art each chapter begins with that morning’s Advent gift. If the horrors of her situation aren’t enough, Julie also experiences extremely vivid nightmares. Most pages end with a character in shock or with the creepy grin so often seen on the Ice Cream Man. He only appears in passing, but others supply the horror. “Can you imagine Jules”, her mother asks, “Christmas blessings every day”, completely unaware of what Julie’s going through.
The third story is that of a talk show host, unfortunate in one respect, his fate revealed on the first of the text pages interspersing those drawn by Marazzo. In another series the text intrusions might be annoying. After all, if you wanted to read a book you wouldn’t be buying a comic. Here, though, they serve the purpose of enlightening us about the cast, gradually revealing their dirty little secrets, and prolonging the suspense regarding us being shown what we’ve been told will happen. It’s a smart way of telling a story, has a brief echo of the opener, and if you don’t like the text, move on because another experiment awaits.
We’ve not seen much of the actual Ice Cream Man in this selection, but he’s there to host the final story, constructed as a telethon appeal to save Jerry’s life. As with most of Ice Cream Man, there’s a dark sense of humour about Jerry’s decline, especially apparent in the advertising sections interrupting the telethon.
Just Desserts takes a dip into four lives, and broadly applies the prevailing morality of the title to them (except in Jerry’s case). It’s delighting, disturbing and disorienting and another great collection.