There’s been a murder in Antarctica, and U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko has to find out what happened, who did it, and why before 90% of the base personnel ship out for the winter. In Whiteout, acclaimed writer Greg Rucka has set up a unique mystery situation with gripping characters while artist Steve Lieber does an amazing job of capturing the personalities, the setting, and especially the weather (a character in itself). The sense of movement in the drifting snow is incredible, so much so that I forgot I was looking at static pictures. A number of outdoor shots are beautifully empty, appropriate for such a desolate waste.
The black-and-white art perfectly suits the harsh environment and story content. If the series were done in color, it could seem too gory at times. Lieber can draw anything well, but he especially excels in his character work. Additionally, the art style varies based on what the scene requires — dream sequence, deep conversation, or life-threatening action.
Whiteout illustrates the potential of the comics medium. The exoticism and foreboding of this bizarre environment is conveyed in a way that feels utterly real … yet puts no one in danger. I can’t imagine understanding so well the experience of living on the ice, in a setting where you face death daily, through any other medium.
Crime isn’t my favorite comics genre — this isn’t really a mystery, more a how-dunnit — but the sheer quality of the work transcends the story. The art and the character development are incredibly strong. It all seems so real; at the same time, I’m almost overwhelmed by the strangeness of the setting. The weather and culture of Antarctica is one of the last real-world frontiers.
The followup, Whiteout: Melt, returns to the icy setting to explore international ramifications. After a brief history of Antarctica, we find out someone has bombed the Russian base and stolen nuclear missiles. Carrie is bribed to investigate; if she captures the evidence (which will score political points against the Russians), she’ll be transferred out.
She finds herself trailing rogue mercenaries across the ice, putting her life in the hands of a Russian captain she doesn’t trust. Her conflict in this book is no longer as personal; the battle is on a bigger scale, with political conspiracies and inter-country grudges. Read today, the Russian/American tension seems a bit outdated, as though their relations were frozen in time.
I couldn’t help thinking of the news that the series has been optioned for a movie while reading Melt. While Whiteout played to the strengths of the comic medium, the second book reads like a film storyboard, with its emphasis on action, sex, characters being reactive instead of proactive, and an open ending.