So-called “horror” comic books are, by this point, a dime a dozen, and here’s the thing: a lot of them suck a little bit. Now, some of that has to do with the medium. As much as I love and will continue to praise the humble comic book as a fantastic agency of storytelling, there’s only so much you can realistically “scare the shit out of” your readership, at least in terms of the cheap shock-tactics employed by today’s vapid and wanting Hollywood horror flicks. Because of that, the sequential art horror narrative has to work a bit harder to elicit its desired reaction; it has to be cerebral, a bit cleverer, it has to be a whole lot crazier than its televised counterparts. In short, it has to be Colder.
At the hardened heart of this book is a man named Declan. Already mentally unstable before the asylum in which he lived was slowly consumed by a mysterious fire, Declan’s sanity takes a further battering as he is attacked - mid inferno - by a dimension-hopping trickster named Nimble Jack, who curses the secret pharmaceutical guinea pig to become literally “colder” as his now unnaturally long-life progresses.
After their encounter, we meet up with Declan some 70 years later. His now almost completely frozen (yet otherwise un-aged) body sits undisturbed and under the sole care of a kindly woman named Reece, who wants only for this poor soul to cease his aimless bounce between mental institutions and hospitals, all of whose administrators have been baffled by his impossible (and quite catatonic) condition. What follows is the return of the nefarious Nimble Jack, come back to feed on his frozen Declan dinner, as well as the entire mentally disturbed populace of the world.
As Declan comes to his senses, he leads the increasingly mentally set-upon Reece through an even crazier adventure that sees them on the run, jumping between our dimension and one formed by the solidified insanity of mankind, in a cat-and-mouse flight from Jack, who hungers for their toothsome madness.
The insidious intelligence behind this intricate story is that it is so damn simple, not in its plotting or thematic approach, but in its telling. Tobin does a fantastic job of guiding what could be, in less-deft hands, a befuddled mess into what is a pretty straightforward story, but one that seeps with a drooling current of terrifying insanity oozing through its veins like coagulating blood.
Nimble Jack - the dark and deadly imp that haunts the book as its main antagonist - is a villain in the same grinningly twisted “school of thought” as Freddy Krueger, but instead of terrorizing the dreams of his victims, he feasts on their respective brands of crazy. In Jack is the genius of this book.
The scenes wherein he massages the mental health of his “food” into tender morsels are suitably stomach-churning, not necessarily because they rely on shock and awe, but because his deranged method is so sweet-tongued and playful. Whether he is fattens-up the irrational fears of an Agoraphobic woman by taking her into a waking dream where she is surrounded by clawing cycloptic creatures who leer at her unblinkingly, or if he unleashes upon a dog-fearing man a host of hounds with fingers for legs (the fuck?), Jack takes a disgusting delight in his evil, and dare I say it ... it’s almost infectious. That is what makes this book so scary.
But it isn’t just that skin-crawling, lasting terror that fills this book. There are a lot of quivering, quieter moments as well; particularly between Declan and Reece, but also when the former interacts with a few unbalanced people. As he tries to help them with his abilities that are almost the polar (no pun intended) opposite to Jack, he sacrifices his biological heat, as well as his own tenuous grasp of reality. Seeing his dynamic with people and that self-sacrifice makes him instantly endearing, despite his otherwise general (and understandable) aloofness.
Paired together beautifully with this story is the art of Juan Ferreyra, and I hesitate to write about it for fear of not doing it justice. As great as the narrative was, I’m not sure I would be as emotionally entangled after its reading without Ferreyra’s deviant, impossibly angular and gnarled art.
He does a stellar job in maintaining a lived-in real world, but his talent really shines in the warped universe of Jack and Declan. “The Hungry World,” as it’s called in the book, is this endless, knotted-Victorian city peopled by emaciated monsters that would give someone like Tim Burton the biggest boner he’s ever had. The scope of Ferreyra’s scape is as impressive as it is nauseating and is truly a sight to behold.
You also have to appreciate the ease of which he is able to skip between these two worlds. The way he breaks up, say, a pleasant park scene, with one of Jack clawing his way out of the mouth of a homeless man is just ... look, you might want to switch to rubber sheets for a while, that’s all I’m saying.
Color is obviously a huge factor in a story like this, and, simultaneously, what makes Colder so jarringly remarkable. Each place, each situation ... hell, each character has its, his or her own tone, set inside an environment rendered with the clean yet grotesque look reminiscent of (yet also singularly unique beside) Gabriel Rodriguez’s work in Locke & Key. In fact, in terms of enjoyment in this kind of comic book storytelling, I’d put those titles very close to each other. That’s a high bar, I know, but Colder is that fucking good.
Reading this series in trade was bittersweet: it was so damn sweet, now I’m bitter I’ll have to go single-issue for the next arc. Volume two of Colder begins next year, we are told, with a tease at the end of volume one, and I am absolutely pumped to see what happens next. If you want a true horror story that really gets under your skin and stays there, licking ... if you want art that is going to haunt you with its menacing rend of innocence ... if you really wanna get crazy ... get Colder.
Writer: Paul Tobin Artist: Juan Ferreyra Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $17.99 Date: 10/9/13