Solstice started life almost a decade ago as a never-finished miniseries. Now, it’s a still-timely graphic novel about the excesses to which men, fearing death, go to to survive.
Steven T. Seagle writes and Justin Norman draws the story of Hugh Waterhouse. Hugh’s father is a millionaire with a brain tumor, and he takes his son on a quest for the Fountain of Youth. His accomplishments, his money, his power, and his family aren’t enough for him; instead of being remembered, he wants to be immortal by not dying.
Dad is the kind of overwhelming, selfish steamroller who’d have the hubris to think that he can find a way to beat death when no one else has. His money controls others, and he’ll sacrifice anything to get what he wants. That includes his son, who at one point becomes an object to be traded in a shocking bargain made by his father. He’s not a villain, doing bad things so he can evilly chuckle afterwards. He thinks what he’s doing is right and even admirable.
Seagle makes gutsy choices throughout. The book opens with Hugh trying to save his father from falling to his death over a waterfall. He fails. The title refers to the day of that action, the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Seagle plays with this setting throughout the book’s captions, contrasting it with Dad’s shortest day in a dark joke about death.
Hugh’s narration points out significant philosophical questions, but they’re also seasoning for an exciting quest story. His internal monologue shows the reader how many lies he’s had to tell himself to survive his father’s treatment. Before the final expedition to Chile, Hugh and his father explored Canada and Siberia, each time causing death and destruction to others without concern.
Hugh’s always made himself subservient to his father’s wants; he’s a tortured adolescent with no need to grow up. Dad says he wants a man for a son while undercutting him at every turn. Hugh’s only outlet is seething resentment, a mental disconnect from reality that in its own way makes him his father’s son.
Norman’s work is astounding, a detailed realism with emotional impact. It seems from the interview that concludes the book that he doesn’t do comics any more, which is a real loss to the field. Solstice explores the father/son dynamic that fuels so many comics (especially those in the superhero genre) in a surprisingly original way.
2016 Update: Norman continued doing comics, under the name Moritat. Solstice is being re-released by Image as a hardcover in September 2016, in color for the first time.