By Jonathan Edwards
AfterShock has been making a pretty good name for itself over the last year or so. Their catalog of books has expanded exponentially, and they’ve maintained a decently high standard of quality across the board. So, when they first announced Cold War, it seemed to be a pretty safe bet for some quality high concept shenanigans. Unfortunately, that’s not what we get from this first issue. And, what we get instead is a jumbled and unengaging plot, characters devoid of development and/or likeability, and a blatant absence of any proper reason to bother with any subsequent issues.
To be fair, Cold War #1 is never awful or even really bad outright. The first page does a good job of establishing the tone, building the world, and introducing us to Tom Rook, who we follow for the majority of the issue. However, less than two pages later, we get the brief exposition dump explaining how everyone who’s just come out of cryonic sleep has now been drafted into the future war, and that shakes thing up but not in a good way. We’re rapidly introduced to a number of new characters, most of whom have immediately taken freaking out over the news. But, here’s the thing: there’s no way to discern which of them are actual cast for the book and which are just faces in the crowd. At first, I figured they were all just cannon fodder, especially since it’s immediately followed by some of Tom’s backstory. It wasn’t until a second readthrough that I realized that some of those shown here do, in fact, appear again later.
Although, more problematic than that is Tom himself. Because, frankly, he’s not a very interesting character. His whole shtick is that he’s spent his whole life fighting as a soldier, and it’s the only thing he’s good at. And, maybe that would’ve worked if he showed even a shred of discontentedness at that fact. But, he doesn’t. Rather, he revels in his propensity for war and bloodshed. So much so that he might as well be Frank Miller “protagonist” (just without the Islamophobia or misogyny). Granted, there’s a twist in the last few pages that suggests he was never meant to be a good or relatable character. The twist is one that’s interesting on paper, yet, in practice, it falls short based on its placement. It’s a bit difficult to explain without getting into spoilers, but essentially, it’s the type of thing that might’ve worked as the issue’s midpoint, but when placed at the end, it becomes the main reason we’re left without motivation to keep reading.
All that being said, the biggest problem with Cold War is the art, and it’s not because Hayden Sherman is a bad artist. Aesthetically, I actually quite like his sketchy, noir-ish style, and, when taken by itself, any given panel looks great. But, good God can it be hard to decipher when viewed as sequential art. And, this book in particular does him no favors. By the time everyone coming out of cryonic sleep finds out they’ve been conscripted (which, by the way, is only the third page), they’re all dressed in identical suits. And, shortly after that, they all put on identical helmets, making it nigh impossible to tell any of the characters (other than Tom) apart from one another. What’s more, aside from only a handful of exceptions, every panel in this issue is either a medium/close-up with no background detail or a wide shot with little character detail and sometimes no background detail either. The result of this is a unique failure in visual storytelling, where, even though it does all look nice, too much of it requires dialog or narration to understand what’s being depicted and how that connects to what’s come before and after it.
As I said before, Cold War #1 isn’t bad. But much like the art, the assemblage of its pieces just doesn’t function. Maybe Tom’s bloodthirstiness could’ve worked as a character trait if everyone else had been nothing but cannon fodder. And, maybe having a barely characterized supporting cast could’ve worked if there were a stronger protagonist and the heart of the story. But, when presented together, as they are here, it leaves the reader without anyone or anything to connect to or empathize with, and that makes it difficult to care about anything that’s going on. So, no, I can’t say I recommend this issue or book. And to be perfectly honest, I have no intention of giving it a second chance with the second issue.
Cold War #1