Writer: Michael Gordon
Art: Francisco Munoz
Publisher: Scout Comics
WHAT IS IT?
Red Winter is a crime/mystery about a former American detective and his relationship with Russia's seedy, criminal underbelly.
While it is the story of a dirty cop, there's a family theme and a redemption arc that makes it hard to compare it to any one specific piece of media with similar elements.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
American ex-detective, Eli Winter, currently lives in Russia. It's the middle of winter. He's miserable.
He's been in Russia for a few years, working as a mercenary for a crime boss. How he went from a detective in NYC to here is anyone's guess, but you can probably imagine it wasn't the warm-and-fuzziest of stories.
You can also imagine Winter wasn't expecting to get a promotion today, as he is asked to investigate the mass murder at, and robbery of, a warehouse owned by his current boss. His police instincts tell him it's going to be a bad day, that this mystery is going to go south for him, fast.
His instincts are right.
You like Winter. Like, he's a mess, but he feels like your mess. Like you're happy to have him as your protagonist. You just want him to be successful without getting hurt (something that's probably not going to happen).
It's weird – Michael Gordon doesn't go in on accents, but you can definitely hear, in your mind, how each character speaks. Each one distinct from the other, it's easy to imagine how the Russian mob boss sounds different from Winter's New York speech patterns, or Aleksei's wheedling, drawn-out speech begging Eli to take a swing and damn himself.
Gordon also amps up the action fast. Crime mysteries have a pattern and a pace typical of their genre. This isn't the slow kind. Maybe it starts off that way, filling you in on some details, but make no mistake, Red Winter has some serious action in its twists and turns.
As someone who remembers just a little Russian from college, Red Winter is a special delight. Before the comic reveals Winter was a detective, we see Aleksei call him "Politsia." Granted, sounding it out will make you realize it sounds awful close to "police," but it works well as a slow reveal.
Speaking of slow reveals, Gordon finds a balance between action and exposition. You may not get all the answers you want right up front, but that's a good thing – it keeps you interested and wanting to learn more without boring you.
Also, being able to read the name of the burger joint Winter goes to fits into the above. (It's "Burger King," but in Cyrillic.)
Illustrator Francisco Munoz brings the grit and grime of Moscow to life with lots of texture and shading and detail work that doesn't bog down the panels. All these elements work together to create a "noir" vibe that doesn't go over-the-top into the typical "noir" tropes.
Combined with the dingy environments, many of the characters feel sinister and menacing. You feel the danger dripping off the page, and it make you worry for Eli Winter.
Rolands Kalnins uses a desaturated palette to emphasize the cold inhospitality of a Moscow winter.
Action sequences use only black, white, and a dangerous, vivid red. They contrast so much with Kalnins's palette that they leap off the page, emphasizing the danger and the action within those panels.
Perhaps more subtle, but one of my favorite parts of the art, is Kalnins's attention to lighting. Neon lighting playing off characters' faces, the glow of headlights behind a mobster, they set the scene and take it to the next level.
Most sound effects are pre-made typefaces, but Nikki Sherman uses a variety of them in Red Winter. Most are blocky, which give a subtle, Soviet, Cyrillic feel to them.
There's a decent amount of dialogue or captions on any given page. Munoz does well to work in tons of space for it while still creating effective scenes, and Sherman makes good use of that space without making the pages feel overwhelmingly copy-heavy.
Have I mentioned that Red Winter is a page-turner? Seriously, you're going to want to add this book to your pull list. Every page is a cliff-hanger.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
As you might expect from a Russian crime comic, there's cursing and violence. Be advised before you consider buying this for any kids.
Some lettering errors – missing letters, words needing an extra space or kerning help to separate them – can take nit-picky readers out of the moment, but these issues may have only been in the review copies and may be resolved in the print edition.
Most Russian words are spelled out how they would be pronounced in English. However, "Khorosho" is spelled with Cyrillic letters but in the same typeface as the English (possibly because you don't need a Cyrillic font to spell it). This is mostly just nit-picky and not something a majority of readers would think about or be bothered by.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Scout Comics has one hell of a crime story in Red Winter.
Reading it, you'll be surprised that it hasn't already been optioned for TV or film. Russian crime, a disgraced police officer, a dysfunctional family, and a mystery to be solved – Red Winter feels ready-made for the screen without feeling like a comic just made as a pitch for a movie deal.
Gritty, nuanced, and compelling as hell, you'll be through these two issues before you know it. And it still feels like there's plenty of story to tell for many more issues in the future. In fact, Red Winter's hooks make it feel like it'd be successful as an ongoing or a 5-issue miniseries.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Grimm Tales of Terror Vol. 4 #4 by Michael Gordon & Hakan Aydin
Spencer & Locke, Vol. 1 by David Pepose & Jorge Santiago, Jr.
Deadbeat by Jed McPherson & Chris Shehan
If you like the art:
Goth Ghost Girl by BJohn Schlim, Jr., Sergio Quijada, Francisco Munoz & Bernardo Brice
Criminal by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Soviet Ghosts by Brentt Harshman & Emilio Utrera
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Michael Gordon – Writer & Co-creator
Outlander: Lives in Northern Ireland
Before being published by Scout Comics, Red Winter was actually a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Francisco Munoz – Art & Co-creator
Outlander: Hails from Mexico
Responded to an advertisement Michael Gordon put up for an artist on Red Winter. Gordon met him through that, and they decided to work together on this comic.
Rolands Kalnins – Colors & Book Design
Music Lover: Is a fan of metal
Outlander: Lives in Latvia
Is also a power-lifter
Nikki Sherman – Letters
Multitalented: Also writes and illustrates comics
Judging by her Twitter feed, she's a big fan of horror film and craft beer
HOW DO I BUY IT?
Red Winter drops July 31st.
Pre-order it from:
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