5 Series: Winter Men

July 24th, 2010 by | Tags: , , , , ,

-Shortest version: read Sean’s post.

-The short version is that The Winter Men is like Watchmen, only genuinely fun to read. It doesn’t need rigid formalism or a fractal narrative to keep you going. It doesn’t have a cast that is entirely unpleasant. It doesn’t need them. As far as stories about washed up old superheroes goes, Winter Men beats the pants off Watchmen.

-The other version is that Winter Men takes on one of the most tired stories in the world and manages to do something magical. Everyone has read stories about heroes that are past their prime and broken emotionally. Watchmen did it well enough, but at this point, it’s been copied so often that the impact of the original has been diluted. It’s become a status quo, or a regularly used tool, rather than a new and exciting twist. It’s like–okay, we get it. Superheroes are human, humans are terrible, shut up talking to me.

But Winter Men. Brett Lewis, John Paul Leon, sick letters by John Workman, Dave Stewart on colors… this is the real deal. This takes human heroes and puts them through a lot of the same drama other, lesser books did. Kris Kalenov is a drunk, his former friends see right through him, and his superiors see him as a tool, rather than a person. He’s something used to apply pressure, whether he wants to apply it or not.

-The difference with Winter Men and a lot of stories of its type is that it isn’t there to dwell on the misery of its characters. Sad things happen, Kris’s relationship with his wife is crap, his friend Nina is skeptical of everything he says, he spends a lot of time in the bottle, and he cold punches his girlfriend in the face at one point, but that’s just part of it. Instead, Lewis and JPL are knocking out stories of his life. It’s not about trying to be realistic or dragging these people down out of the heavens. They’re already out of the heavens, and this is about what happens after.

-In a sideways kind of way, it puts me in mind of Joe Casey’s Wildcats and Wildcats 3.0. The two series were set after the heroes were stripped of their cause and left aimless. It was about their search for a new quest and the way they dealt with the hand life dealt them. Not about their fall, not about their misery, and not about how much it sucks not to have a war. It was about finding something new. There was a cause here. It’s gone now. What’s next?

Kris Kalenov, at some point, stopped looking for the next. Winter Men is the story of what happens when someone else’s next finds him.

-The art is astounding, but I can’t do any more justice to it than Sean did. Just believe that John Paul Leon is a powerhouse, and anything he draws is worth cover price plus tax at the very least.

-There’s a lot to like in Winter Men, but I think that my favorite is the fourth chapter. If they published an issue of Spider-Man like that chapter, fans would complain to the heavens that “nothing happens!” Those fans are stupid. The fourth chapter is just a day in the life of Kalenov and his old friend Nikki, a gangster.

It’s just this stupid thing, following them around while they argue over Big Maks, talk about their marriage, and run wild over Moscow, but it’s fantastic. There’s enough sublime moments in this one issue to fill a hundred issues of other comics. There’s the time when this nerd pops off at the mouth and demands to know by what authority Nikki and Kris are hassling him. The very next panel is him in the back of a truck nursing a bloody nose. Or when Nikki admires a table in the Russian McDonald’s and then they come back later to steal it.

It’s an issue about nothing, but it’s really about everything. This is their life.

-The big blue guy in Winter Men is way cooler than Manhattan.

-I would read an entire series about Nina, “The Barricade Girl.” I mean, you thought Black Widow was the dopest thing to come out of Moooseandsquirrel spy shenanigans, but Nina is something else. She’s one of the “Olympic-Spetsnaz Killers.” That? Right up my alley. I’d settle for Brett Lewis just kinda leaving messages on my voice mail about her adventures and maybe JPL doing a weird squiggle that looks kinda like a jump kick.

-Again, John Workman’s letters? Killer.

-“I did everything I was supposed to. I followed orders. As a man, I carried joy and suffering evenly… and I only wanted what a man can expect. But if I can not have these regular things… I will instead have murder.”

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19 comments to “5 Series: Winter Men”

  1. One of the best series to be published over the last ten years. Lewis’ Russamerican (there’s probably a better name for it but I’d don’t know what it is) dialogue is some of the best I’ve ever read- pithy, clever, often humorous, sometimes tossed-off, always authentic-sounding. And JP Leon- words fail. Simply awesome.

    That said, sometimes it seemed that it was constantly being screwed around with somewhere- editorially, maybe, higher up, perhaps- it’s irregular and downright bizarre publishing schedule was testament to that, and if it had gotten half the support it deserves, it may not have been a major hit, but perhaps we would at least get to see a sequel, something which I sincerely doubt will ever happen. Still, we can hope, right?

  2. This is my favorite series in years. Just awesome, cover to cover.

  3. I thought this was a pretty decent series, sadly most people don’t know of it, even I had to be put onto it through a mate.

    I just want to see more JP Leon in my monthly pages.

  4. Best superhero(ish, but yes it totally is, in the end) comic of the last decade, edging out uh, probably Omega the Unknown and Marvel Boy. It *does* face Watchmen (and DKR) down.

  5. Loved this comic. Certainly on my top 10 list of research for the Mutant City Blues game.

  6. That’s a pretty ballsy first paragraph. I have a problem with “this book can kick that book’s ASS” type of comparisons. There’s an conflict introduced where none was intended. You also run the risk of setting readers up for failure when you compare one work to very well-liked and well-regarded work in a battle-style face-off.

    Not having read this “Winter Men” (while still being very open to doing so), I have to admit, I’m now subtly predisposed AGAINST liking it because the first I’m hearing of it sets it up against a book that I know very well and like.

    Finally, (again, haven’t read “Winter Men”), there’s a big difference between invention and refinement. It’s a bigger leap to set forth an idea for the first time than it is to polish that idea later. Lots of books have been put forth with the supposition to “challenge” Moore and Gibbons’ “Watchmen.” Never holds up, though.

    Will this series be a good read? I’m sure it will. Will it make me disregard the groundbreaking formal work and masterful storytelling of “Watchmen?” Not likely.

  7. @darrylayo: I’d disagree that there was no conflict there at all. Everything exists in relation to something else, whether that relationship is in terms of location or quality or time or whatever, and that means that there is definitely a conflict just due to the fact that the two exist.

    I can see your point, but I don’t think that you can discuss this specific style of comics, post-super-war washed up superheroes (for lack of a better phrase) without talking about Watchmen. It’s the elephant in the room in a way that Dark Knight isn’t. I think that there is a lot to like about it, but as an exemplar of that type of story, I think Winter Men is better overall, despite its shortcomings.

    Was Watchmen invention while other books were refinement? I’m not so sure. Watchmen wasn’t the first book to show off old heroes, I don’t think, and it was essentially a refined superhero story… There’s a lot to say with regards to innovation and refinement in Watchmen, but that’s not really an argument I’m qualified to have, I don’t think. I’m too far removed from the original innovation to really judge, I’d say. I’d rather speak directly to what interests me the most–why do I like this book so much more than this other book that I’m supposed to like a lot more than I do?

  8. @david brothers:

    Fair enough. As I said, I’m still looking forward to checking this one out. The scans look great and the premise does interest me.

  9. The “old heros” aspect of Watchmen wasn’t the point of the book. It was about what effect a superhuman – one with actual powers and abilities beyond those of mortal men – would have on the world.

    It was about how Jon Osterman changed the world by existing, how Adrian Veidt decided that the world needed to be further changed to deal with the effects that Jon’s existence had on it, and how their associates became caught in the crossfire.

  10. @Prodigal: Watchmen has a lot of points. There’s a point to Comedian’s brutal cruelty, Rorshach’s lack of compromise, Dan’s impotence, etc etc. The old heroes aspect of Watchmen is absolutely part of the point of the book.

  11. @david brothers: But the central point – the thing that the story is about – is how Osterman changed the world merely by existing in it, and how Veidt decided to change it in response. Rorshach is no more the main character of Watchmen than the reporter was the main character of Citizen Kane.

  12. Besides Watchmen, Winter Men is also a lot better than Contract With God.

  13. @Prodigal: Yes, that is a fair summary of the plot of Watchmen, but that ignores Nite Owl and Silk Spectre’s relationship, the fate of the old Nite Owl, why Rorshach does what he does, how the normal human heroes grow in a world where Manhattan exists, etc. Watchmen is a multifaceted book, and to be quite honest, I’m not even sure what we’re arguing about here. What did I say that was incorrect?

  14. @david brothers: Let me try phrasing my complaint with your assessment of Watchmen a different way: Saying that Watchmen isn’t the best story about washed up old heroes would be like saying Inception isn’t the best movie about Japanese businessmen named Saito.

  15. @Prodigal: I don’t think that’s an accurate comparison at all. Watchmen isn’t legendary because of Manhattan vs Veidt. That is part of it, yes, but it is also famous largely because it took superheroes and pulled them into a (pardon the phrasing) more mature context. Sexual frustration, the interplay between sex/violence and costumes/sex, non-traditional relationships, baser motivations for heroism, politics crossing over with superheroics, and on and on and on. Having old, washed up old heroes (which is absolutely a glib way of putting it, but I trust you know that I mean something like “imperfect heroes who are past their prime attempting to reclaim past glories in a harsher world”) is a larger part of the book than I think you think it is. If Moore and Gibbons created a world where everyone was self-actualized and felt good about themselves, Nite Owl/Spectre never would’ve happened, Manhattan wouldn’t have been so distant, etc.

    Saying that Watchmen isn’t the best story about washed up old heroes is like saying Inception isn’t the best story about a heist gone wrong, I think is more accurate.

  16. I hope 4 one-shots is next.

  17. “One of the best series to be published over the last ten years.” Spot on, Johnny Bacardi.

    The beauty of Brett Lewis’ script was that it had this wonderful dialogue which was filled with these great linguistic quirks. The effect was that the book seemed like it was originally written in Russian and then translated into English, with the translators doing their best to convey the meaning of certain slang or regional idioms to a general audience.

    Like the best work of Howard Chaykin, you had to concentrate on what was being presented, but each time you read the book, you are still rewarded with something new. Needless to say, I loved this WINTER MEN.

  18. “One of the best series to be published over the last ten years.” correction; the best.

  19. […] His style is distinct and instantly recognizable. Brett Lewis and John Paul Leon’s Winter Men benefitted greatly from his work. He lettered Paul Pope’s Batman Year 100 (in concert with […]