Jeff Lemire’s work has been formative to my taste in comics. Essex County delivered melancholy notes that are still unmatched. Animal Man was a fantastic horror-tinged family book. Sweet Tooth created a lonely barren world that I was eager to dive into. Jock’s no slouch either, doing fantastic work in comics like Wytches and Green Arrow Year One. So a new original series from both of them seemed too good to be true. Unfortunately, I think it might have been.
The first page introduces us to the world that this story takes place in: the Trench. As Jock draws a family ice skating through a canyon, we learn a little bit more. People live in the Trench, and they can’t ever leave. Leaving the Trench wakes up something called “the Snowman” who scares everyone away from even attempting to escape. And apparently, the Trench spans endlessly. Right away, this opening triggered all my worst, most cynical instincts. Every word of the first five pages of the book felt like obvious setup for a future story. Obviously the very premise of the Trench exists to set up stories, but this felt… mechanical. It didn’t even feel like the narrator believed what she was saying. It’s impossible to get immersed in the world when the writing doesn’t feel like it believes the story it’s telling.
The narration continues, delivering more exposition on the world and society. Our narrator has just turned 12 years-old, an apparently significant milestone. She wants nothing more than to be a hunter like her father, while her younger sister is more emotional. Their society apparently enforces antiquated gender roles, making our main character an anomaly. Their father cares for his daughters greatly, but is also either hiding something or misremembering his own past. There’s more, but it all feels as disjointed as this summary. At no point do these various details coalesce into a cohesive or immersive world, it just feels like a bunch of story and character hooks being thrown at me.
Jock’s art also isn’t really helping here. Jock’s always been a fantastic horror artist, but Snow Angels feels like he was trying to experiment with bringing that horror-tinged tone without using heavy inks. Since the world is set in an icy canyon, the majority of the comic is colored white. And while I can appreciate the attempt here, it doesn’t end up working. The best pages in the issue are big splash pages that highlight how vast and lonely this world is — it plays to Lemire’s strengths as a writer and Jock is able to evoke a really strong sense of isolation. But this isn’t how most of the issue looks. The pages that have to tell the actual story ruin that lonely atmosphere, and actively pulled me out of the book.
Lemire has written a lot of original comics, and has a lot of experience writing first issues that draw you into brand new worlds. Sweet Tooth, Descender, and Black Hammer all had really strong openings that sucked readers in and created worlds that I desperately wanted to see more of. But Snow Angels feels soulless, like even the creators aren’t really interested in the world they’ve created. The artifice is palpable throughout the issue, and the last page’s reveal was the least surprising way to close the issue imaginable. I expected far better from both creators, but unfortunately Snow Angels doesn’t feel like it has any inspiration behind it. It’s a dull, frustrating beginning that I can only hope is not indicative of the rest of the series, but I don’t have high expectations.
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