Review by Ian Keogh
During the cold war the Soviets ran experiments that resulted in the creation of a Superman. With that era now extinct the documentary footage is considered faked propaganda. There’s futher collateral damage originating from the disintegration of the Soviet state. The feared Spetnatz special forces survive as assassins for hire, and assorted other former organisations of state control fight internecine battles to retain their influence. They’re all in thrall to the new foreign money flooding into Moscow.
Brett Lewis’ plot is superbly rolled out. The clues are there. He almost slaps you around the face with them, in fact, yet when the penny drops it’s still a surprise. He slides in the main plot in the same subtle manner. Kris Kalenov, Moscow policeman, is involved in some horse trading with a former colleague requiring him to investigate the kidnapping of a child and the murder of her mother that initially appears to be a sideline. This is against a background of top officials and gangsters being assassinated, and the CIA arriving in Moscow to offer their aid.
Once a member of an elite army unit known as the Winter Men, Kalenov visits his surviving comrades, each excellently presented, their personalities differing from his own dour and self-destructive character. He’s the classic noir protagonist who carries his baggage with him, problems in Chechnya repeatedly referenced, and there’s a narrative expectation that accompanies such a character. Kalenov follows a trial of organ dealers that leads him away from Russia to New York and back again as a more extensive conspiracy unfolds.
The asides, personalities and distractions that Lewis provides to enrich his plot add an appealing density, and Kalenov’s sardonic narrative commentary is the gravy. This never lets up from start to finish, and the plot fulfils all the early promise.
An equal partner and equally good is John Paul Leon. This is a world far more shaded in grey than any he’s previously illustrated, yet the dark shadows that usually feature in his pages are noticeably absent here. His layouts are distinctive and exemplary, and what’s a very wordy script never overwhelms him. He packs his panels with detail, really bringing to life the crowded and chaotic atmosphere in which Kalenov operates, and one can only image how long this took to draw.
Lewis’ comic credits are all too few, and on the basis of The Winter Men that’s a great loss. Top of the line creators offer their endorsement on the back cover, and they’re all spot on. It’s a compelling, dense and bleak journey into the heart of horror, yet a complete joy to read.