Times (and climates) are-a-changin’ with global warming and more extreme weather being thrown in to the Earth’s mix. XKCD, a beloved web comic strip for the scientific/nerdy, has even done a comic strip on the subject that was much loved (if a bit misleading). There’s been plenty of exploration in a post apocalyptic setting–right now I’m thinking about Mad Max and the easily missed reference to the “water wars”, implying a global shortage brought on by unfettered greed, ecological laissez faire, and a failure to appreciate the future.
So imagine my piqued interest when I heard about Snowfall, a new comic with the Image imprint that has weather control as a superpower and a ruined climate dytopia as the future. I learned about the comic last year during New York Comic Con 2016, at one of the Image Comics panels, where some of the team was speaking on the panel. The writer, Joe Harris, and artist, Martin Morazzo, were both in attendance. Both gave a little pitch on the world of Snowfall and answered some questions. The panel was enough for me to seek them out on the floor, in Artist Alley, and buy a signed first issue from them.
Yes, I know you can’t really judge a series on a single issue, so this isn’t really a review as much as my initial impressions and close reading on a comic I’m just picking up. Relax.
Just ignore the fact that I wrote a 5000 word review on a 33 page comic.
The central conflict centers around a mysterious hero who can create snow (hence the title) in a world that lays parched and sweltering, where it never snows anymore thanks to ecologic abuses. The antagonists are part of a corporate controlled government–the Cooperative States of America–hunting our weather controlling outlaw.
The team behind Snowfall is all new to me, so let’s delve a little bit into the creative team’s background before going further into this Snowfall review.
The Team Behind Snowfall
For the most part, I’ll just comment quickly on each team member and leave their own biographies sourced from their personal sites where possible.
Joe is the writer for the series and has the richest background on the team. He’s led numerous past writing projects in graphic mediums both independent and with Marvel, written for the big screen, and even done work for the X-Files comic series. Doing a quick survey of the comics work mentioned in his biography, he’s averaging about a 3.5/5 on the graphic projects he’s written for. A common thread of criticism on his writing is some plotting that pushes the suspension of disbelief a little too far and becomes a bit unbelievable at times.
JOE HARRIS is the co-creator and writer of myriad comics and graphic novels such as the hot, new Image Comics series, Rockstars and the hit science fiction titles, Snowfall and Great Pacific; along with the supernatural thrillers, Ghost Projekt and Spontaneous, and the original graphic novel, Wars In Toyland, for Oni Press.
A horror screenwriter and filmmaker, Harris conceived and co-wrote Darkness Falls for Sony Pictures—after his short film, Tooth Fairy was acquired by Revolution Studios and developed into a feature—as well as the politically farcical slasher movie, The Tripper for FOX, and is currently writing the live-action web series, Ninjak vs. the Valiant Universe for Valiant Entertainment to debut later this year.
As a young creator at Marvel Comics, Joe launched the cult-classic Spider-Man spinoff, Slingers and the Bishop: The Last X-Man series. He has written for just about all major comics publishers and characters including DC Comics, Marvel, IDW, Dark Horse, BOOM! and others.
Since 2013, Joe has written the officially-licensed red hot continuation of the paranormal investigations of Agents Mulder and Scully in The X-Files comics (IDW Publishing) to the enjoyment of fans around the world.
A native New Yorker, Joe lives in Manhattan.
According to Morazzo’s own website, he’s been a published artist since 2008. He’s also worked with Harris previously as a creator of another Image Comics series, Great Pacific. Interestingly, both series have ecological ruination as premises. He originally cut his comic art chops in the major scene doing a web comic for DC’s no longer existing online Zuda Comics imprint. Browsing through his comic art commissions page, his style reflects a certain tidiness in the linework–a lot of straight lines and minor slow curves that feel like precisely laid with a parametric Bézier calculation. His character work reflects some simplifying notions, in contrast to the detailed, busy backgrounds he likes to put the characters against. There’s a definite affinity for symmetry going on in his artwork.
Martín Morazzo is an artist based in Argentina who first came to the attention of US comics readers through his artwork on the webcomic Absolute Magnitude, which was published via DC’s now defunct online imprint, Zuda Comics.
In 2012, with writer Joe Harris, he co-created Great Pacific, an eighteen issues series published by Image Comics!
In 2016, Martin is illustrating Snowfall, again with Joe Harris and Image Comics! Has worked in two fill-in issues of Nighthawk, for Marvel Comics, and will launch, in October, The Electric Sublime, with writer W. Maxwell Prince and IDW Publishing!
He lives in Buenos Aires, and when he isn’t spending every waking minute drawing, he likes to spend time with his lovely wife, Victoria and his two children, Nina and Lupe.
According to an interview on CBR, she’s been keeping busy with work all over the industry. Some of her past work includes stints on DC series’, other Image titles, and indie comics. In terms of process, she says she tries to work with the artist to understand what tone needs to be conveyed in various scenes while creating palettes for each work. On what good coloring brings to the table: “Not only can good coloring evoke more emotion that a black and white image, but it can also bring focus to certain aspects of panels and to certain elements of the page that are important or otherwise might be overlooked and it can change the beats of comic with color blocking.”
Born in San Antonio, Texas in the spring of 1988. Received a BFA in Illustration/ minor in Photography and Digital Imaging from the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, FL in 2010. Nerd and passionate about many different types of art and music. Also an avid devourer of coffee. Completely non- compliant.
2016: Nominated for Best Single Issue from a Mainstream Publisher (Supergirl: Begin Super) in the Prism Awards
Winner for Favorite Indie Book (Bitch Planet) Favorite Single Issue (Bitch Planet #8), Favorite Comic (Bitch Planet)// Nominated for Best Colorist, Favorite Big 2 Book (DC: Bombshells) in the Autostraddle Comic Awards
2015: Nominated for Best Colorist in the Ghastly Awards
2014: Recognized by Comicbook.com for the 10 Best Colorists of 2014
Unfortunately, not much I could find online on him. He seems to have a long history working on a diverse mix of comic titles, including many Star Wars comics. Looking through his Comic Vine credits shows his involvement in 182 issues spanning every major comics imprint and indie ones too. The main thing I can say about him is he seems fairly experienced.
Here’s something I didn’t know–graphic designers get hired to do logos for comic books. I guess I had always assumed it was just the artist drawing something up to do the identity. Muller looks fairly impressive–his portfolio ranges across various comic properties, Fortune 100 corporations, startups, movies, and more. He’s an award winning top designer and, looking through his portfolio of work, he has some really well put together pieces.
helloMuller is the studio of award-winning graphic designer and creative director Tom Muller (LinkedIn profile). He partners with, and designs for technology startups, movie studios, publishers, media producers, filmmakers, and ad agencies —eschewing the boundaries between creative disciplines to make modern work that is relevant, that resonates and inspires — applying a craft-like finesse to the creation and execution of visual communication and identity across all platforms.
Named as one of the top 100 designers working in the UK today by The Drum; Tom has spoken at events worldwide (Reasons to be Creative, OFFF, FITC, Apple Store), while his work has been recognised by The Eisner Awards, The Harvey Awards, Entertainment Weekly, Wired, A.V. Club, Complex, and Paste Magazine — and featured in over 100 design & industry publications worldwide including Design Week, Creative Review, Grafik, Computer Arts, and Varoom.
A Politically Charged Comic?
With a topic like climate change, it’s easy to assume there’s some political messaging going on. My personal opinion is that climate change shouldn’t even be a political question because it’s a scientific one. I’m just pointing to the preponderance of evidence supporting climate change and scientific community consensus over the issue. The only reasonable arguments I’ve seen on the point is the exact extent of its effects.
Anyway, that’s not the point here. Image Comics actually published their own interview with Snowfall’s creators so you can hear about their take on the thorny issue of politics in their work:
IC: GREAT PACIFIC and SNOWFALL both deal with humanity as a threat to the environment and vice versa. SNOWFALL is obviously not a polemic, but do you see it as a comic with a message?
JH: Oh, sure. I mean, I don’t think you could really tackle a subject like environmental crisis, or climate change, or whatever related subject, and not broadcast a message. Like GREAT PACIFIC before it, SNOWFALL tackles the idea that humanity has ruined the planet, but on an even greater scale. And even if our protagonist is the scion of big oil industrialists like GREAT PACIFIC’s Chas Worthington, or a terrorist and enemy of the state like the White Wizard in SNOWFALL, the material is loaded going in.
The World of Snowfall
In the aforementioned interview, writer Joe Harris does a great job explaining the world he’s built and the general backstory to the events of the series. He notes a world ravaged by extreme amounts of global warming, weather control disasters, and a America ruled by oppressively powerful corporations. Note that IC is Image Comics and JH is Joe Harris.
WARNING! Some general spoilers ahead:
IC: By 2045, the United States of America has been replaced by Cooperative America. What series of events led to this change? What’s life like for the average citizen now?
JH: The climate finally crashing down was probably the biggest, but not the only, major event to frame the future America SNOWFALL presents. But once we turned our attention to finally trying to fix the damage, we pretty much wrecked the planet’s ability to make it snow anymore in the process. And by the time things finally collapsed under the strain, this huge mega-company called the Hazeltyne Corporation was well positioned and ready to maximize its influence by essentially merging with the U.S. government so it wouldn’t completely collapse like the climate did. Only this is unchecked corporate culture and control in the year 2045, so you can imagine they’re going to be working a little harder for some of the people than others.
Back when the shit was really hitting the fan, and the climate was getting more and more unstable while catastrophes (such as a tsunami sweeping away lower Manhattan) were becoming more and more frequent, Dr. August Reasons, a climate scientist working for Hazeltyne, began experimenting with ways to control the weather. He’s determined to make it snow again, only some awful stuff happens to his family, his faith in the Cooperative is shaken, and he ends up stealing his work from the company and becomes this avowed weather terrorist and Enemy of the Cooperative State, the White Wizard. Reasons goes on to take the fight to the Cooperative, like I was saying earlier, only to end up abdicating the field after a failed attack on the Cooperative. He ends up leaving the field and going into a long reclusion for unknown reasons.
In his absence, the Cooperative stabilizes. In “Saved New York City,” the Cooperative stronghold, Americans enjoy the fruits of Hazeltyne’s efforts to retake control of the ravaged climate. Only things aren’t hardly utopian, as these kind of stories often reveal.
In the afterword of the first issue, he also goes into a little depth explaining how there’s no typical noble good guys in the conflict between the White Wizard and Hazeltyne–blood is on the hands of both sides. Eco-terrorists vs dehumanizing corporations in a war with plenty of collateral damage.
Enough setting the scene, let’s move into the thing itself.
But First, the Cover Art
Yeah I know I said the thing itself, but I do want to take a look at the cover art or, in technical terms, judging a book by its cover.
Covers are the first things readers see when looking at a comic while deciding whether to open it up, read on, and buy. Artists put a little extra effort into the cover because of the importance of first impressions–good covers tell stories.
So I’ll give it a fair look.
The first thing I notice is the blue dominant color scheme that makes up 70% of the cover. Complementing the blues, white serves as the secondary color and red as the accent. You also have a dark void in the middle, suggesting a certain amount of darkness and mystery within a cold winter setting. The blues suggest water, yet the darks and the singular saturated red eyes point at danger. It’s a limited color palette, but limited palettes are very effective on covers.
It’s a fairly straightforward, simple composition–just the upper silhouette of a figure in a hooded cape, with one begloved arm stretching forward as the locus of action. You can see the snowflakes and streaming forces leading out from the one opened hand, seemingly releasing a spell of frozen magic. No face is shown, just a mysterious figure with glowing red eyes with piercing aim and, perhaps, a sinister purpose. Also notice the arc of the cape, almost like he’s taking flight–a visual metaphor for the launch of the story.
There’s a smaller amount of negative space than positive, mainly in the black void of the figure and above in the sky. I’m wondering if all the snowflakes are necessary, perhaps making the cover a tad busy.
The upper right corner contains designer Tom Muller’s logo for the new series, evoking geometric ice forms with sharp diamond points built into the letter faces. The logo has a futuristic, modern typographic composition, lacking serifs, and being quite angular/simplified in its lines. It feels sharp, with funky magentas, cyans, and indigos providing a brightly contrasting, modern aesthetic. The all white ‘o’ softens it a bit though, creating a focal point like a looking glass for the setting.
That slogan, “2045: Weather is a Weapon”, is a little cheesy, but it gets the point across about the central theme of a war about the weather.
A Streamlined Panel Layout
One of the first things I noted while leafing through the whole issue was the very linear panel layout. Each panel is a perfect rectangle, no dynamic diagonal shapes or overlapping panels are used. The gutters, the border space in between each comic panel, are also padded out quite a bit. These are somewhat minor details, but they frame the comic with a certain regularity/uniformity that make it easy to read along. There’s no black ink outlines for each panel either, giving it a more minimalist and modern feel. It’s a simplified framework.
Imperfections Rule the Art
The linework is a bit loose–by that I mean the lines aren’t perfectly sharp, clean, or straight. Contrary to Morazzo’s own biography, I felt like he exercised imprecision as part of his artistic style. They have a bit of organic scattering going on, a little dirtiness that I’d characterize as hand-drawn with some cleaned up parts here and there. Detail line portions are broken up with some speckled flecks of dark edging out a realist/grungy feel to the world. Because the lines are broken up and irregular, I felt the art was trying to emphasize the imperfections of the world of Snowfall.
You can even see the hand-drawn, no-rulers-or-guides-used linework in the snowflakes of the opening scene. Being crystals, you might expect them to be drawn as perfectly geometric shapes, but not here. Perhaps it’s pointing to the imperfect artifice of a man-made winter snow?
The artwork lightly reminded me of Frank Quitely’s art style in New X-Men with Grant Morrison, with weirdly blocky faces, realistic detailing in the irregular lines, and somewhat distorted/elongated limbs.
I’m not trying to be insulting when I say the characters aren’t drawn ‘pretty’. More precisely, I’m saying characters are designed with an eye to imperfection, evoking the imperfections of real life, though the art style itself isn’t what I’d call devoted to complete realism. Instead, the distortions of anatomy and line take away the glossy ‘prettiness’ that often comes with comic characters–every figure drawn with magnified beauty and attractiveness. The distortion of character anatomy might not be for everyone; the faces do have a certain uncanny ugliness to them. I still believe it’s an artistic choice to support the overall mature themes.
The White Wizard
The titular character, the White Wizard, has a character design that some might characterize as mundane. His costume is just a blue hooded cloak, blue gloves, and 2 large white circles signifying eyes. Yet, the design asserts the theme of mysteriousness–you can never see his face, just a vague outline of a person with stark, limited features. The color scheme of the costume utilizes the colors of water, cold, and winter. Those colors are appropriate, since he’s supposed to be a mythic character who controls winter storms. However, you wouldn’t be amiss saying his costume is a bit overly easy in its choices.
Perhaps the ill-definition of his figure, the inherent mystery of his design, is aiming for a sort of mythic status as a figure of legend. Someone who isn’t a man, but a supernatural wraith coming and going like a fairy tale creature.
The Big Bad Beetleborgs
I didn’t realize this until the my second read-through, but the character designs of the antagonist Hazeltyne soldiers are reminiscent of insects, their armor evoking exoskeletal shells. Specifically, the soldiers’ uniforms and full-face masks give them a beetle or cockroach-like appearance. Even the Hazeltyne logo’s icon looks somewhat like a top view of a crawling bug, legs extending outwards as it creeps about.
The high ranking villain introduced in this first issue, Inspector Davitika Deal, also has a faintly arthropodic character design featuring a fur cape shaped like beetles wings. Her heavy overcoat, with its thick padding and long striations, is arguably similar to a beetle’s exoskeleton.
The soldiers’ robotic speech balloons make sense as extensions of the bug metaphor–what better way to underscore their inhumanity than to compare them to insects? I’d argue nature’s closest thing to robots are insects. The perfect formations of ants, their hive mind, the seemingly unceasing efficiency they have, draws favorable comparisons to machines. The soldiers are just cogs in a machine, just like worker ants in a colony, with the corporate controlled government led by Hazeltyne seeming to be their queen. You could even connect the concept of the Hive Queen to the main antagonist thus far, Inspector Davitika Deal, the female commander of Hazeltyne’s forces.
You know how they say cockroaches would be most likely to survive a nuclear apocalypse? Consider the dystopic human society of Snowfall as the surviving cockroaches.
Bad Colors, Good Colors
I liked the consistent use of contrasting color themes when depicting Hazeltyne’s scenes versus scenes related to the White Wizard. You can see this in the coloration of the background sky–Hazeltyne is yellow while the White Wizard is blue. Another interesting color choice is that, in general, Hazeltyne characters have lighter color schemes–blonde hair on the inspector, white uniforms–while the White Wizard and the young rebellious student we follow in this issue are both more darkly colored–darker clothing and brown/black hair.
I might be reading too much into this, but I’m speculating that our heroes/villain conflict is an allusion to the balance of yin and yang. Do the two forces need to reach a balance with each other in order to restore the earth? Hazeltyne seems to represent control, antithesis to the chaos of the White Wizard’s ecoterrorism. We come into the story knowing that the White Wizard and Hazeltyne have been split apart for over 10 years. Maybe the two coming into conflict again is what’s needed to restore the balance and unfreeze time.
Here’s slightly speculative point: on the CMYK color wheel (essentially means Cyan Magenta Yellow and Black as colors that can be mixed to make any other color) mixing cyan and yellow make green, and green is typically associated with a verdant, living Earth. A little circumstantial, but I just point out the patterns that present themselves.
The White Wizard isn’t the first time we’ve seen a weather powered superhero. Storm of the X-Men is top-of-mind, but I’m also thinking of Elijah Snow from Planetary. However, the White Wizard seems to be a depiction of weather control aiming for a bit more realism. He’s just a scientist who can make it snow.
Yet the snow serves as an important symbol. It is both a magical phenomenon that can invoke child-like wonder and a harbinger of nature’s wrath. People build snowmen, make snow angels, have snowball fights, yet they also die in blizzards, starve from lack of food, and have everyday routes made dangerous by the frozen ground.
Snow can also symbolize a lack of change, a freezing of progress. And there seems to be plenty of that going on, until events transpire in this first issue, reigniting an eco-war that restart the wheels of conflict.
A Song of Innocence and Experience
One of the major overarching themes throughout Snowfall is the tension and conflict between innocence and experience. Even our protagonists and antagonists seem to embody this dichotomy–the Hazeltyne corporatocracy symbolizing an adult world sucked of joy, of ultimate control and issues of the grown world, like the war that their soldiers represent or the need for money that any adult has felt. In contrast, the White Wizard is a force of chaos, raining snow upon the town in the opening scenes for all the children to play in while gleefully breaking things to effect his escape, like an irresponsible child. He need not concern himself with the repercussions of his actions; we later find out that his conjuring of a snowstorm causes a collapse that kills one of the children we see playing in the snow.
Even his name, Wizard, evokes something like the childish wonder of magic and fantasy, of make-believe.
The White Wizard’s would-be protégé, Anthony Farrow, also exemplifies innocence by his very nature; he is a young college student. His lofty ideals, untainted by the lectures of his college professor and the Hazeltyne establishment representing adulthood, are pushed higher by the White Wizard’s indirect influence. He follows the White Wizard’s example of destruction and lack of concern for consequences by planting a bomb in his college lecture hall while students are inside, showing little responsibility or caring for the deaths he causes.
He idolizes his hero, almost like a child worshiping a comic book superhero. Unfortunately, this isn’t a childhood action comic or fairy tale, as evidenced by the deaths of children, corporate dystopia, terrorism, wars over resource scarcity, and themes of climate change devastation in the comic.
The Princess and the Wizard
Speaking of fairy tales, the issue begins with fairy tale narration as a framing device for the story. We see caption boxes filled with storybook-like lettering telling the reader about a princess who has fallen under a spell of sleep, dreaming of an endless winter, waiting for the White Wizard to save her and end the lonely darkness. Again, we see the dichotomy of innocence and experience. A fairy tale narration leads into images of the carefree wonder of children playing in the snow, suddenly disrupted by the armed Hazeltyne soldiers and the actual meat of the story.
I doubt the fairy tale framing is just window dressing for the story so I’m assuming it might be foreshadowing some future plot point–is the Princess some key person that the White Wizard knows? When the story revisits the fairy tale narration device, it almost feels like the Princess could be the Earth itself, especially since the snow globe image used in the fairy tale portions would be an apt metaphor for a fragile planet, yet the narration points to something else by saying,
“He recalled a time before the endless winter and a world in which the snowfall was good and clean.
Before they both would lose so very much.”
This quotation indicates the world is separate from whatever the Princess is supposed to symbolize. Perhaps it is some person from the White Wizard’s past, or perhaps it some kind of key weapon or power that will be integral to the plot. The key takeaway is the Princess, an important key to the whole war, is dormant while the White Wizard prepares for her awakening.
Maybe the Princess is some technology the Wizard lost when he left Hazeltyne years before?
Big Brother Corporation
This near future scenario has tinges of Stalinist Russia’s perversion of ideals. The USA has been reformed to the propaganda-friendly named Cooperative States of America. Cooperation is a good thing, right? How about the cooperation of corporations in an monopolistic market? At its most essential level, a corporation is just a cooperative effort towards a goal: the maximization of profit. The comic points to a negative view when that cooperation takes the form of corporate hegemony, a world where corporations are granted the right of personhood by the Constitution.
And the corporations are always watching.
The art makes a visual nod to a world turned upside down when it shows an upside down American flag flying high above the town of New Mercy Resettlement. This isn’t the free world you know. Big brother is watching, though in this case it’s the corporations with total control and surveillance, not just the government. Hazeltyne’s agents, like the professor and the Inspector, all seem to have robotic eyes reporting back to the corporation.
One interesting choice is how the panels with the Hazeltyne soldiers are composed in a sequence. They start with a low angle shot, enhancing their imposing height, but then, as the panels progress, move to a birds-eye view of them on a winter landscape. They become barely visible, just specks on a larger stage. This visual choice might be trying to highlight how powerful the White Wizard is with his control over nature’s forces.
Ruining the Surprise
I’m saying this with the caveat that I’ve only read the first issue of the series, but I feel like revealing the White Wizard’s identity could have happened later in the story. I felt like delaying the reveal would have built up more dramatic tension–our surrogate character being the student Anthony Farrow who we would follow along with, indirectly hearing about the White Wizard’s exploits. Then, we would get knocked back to reality just like Anthony did when we finally get to meet the actual White Wizard.
Speaking of Anthony, that plotting path would also have allowed for more character development for the kid. The audience would have more time to care about him and his quest to find the White Wizard. Instead, things happen fast, which might end up being not a bad thing. Who knows? That’s just my 2 cents.
The story ends with the White Wizard shaken by the consequences of his actions. The facade of innocence is shattered by the mayhem he’s wrought: the death of a child from a collapsing building and the violent terrorism he has inspired in the young Anthony. Every action has a cost, and this seems to be the first time August Reasons, the White Wizard, realizes that he’s got blood on his hands. Again, we’re thrust into the conflict between innocence and experience, truth and fantasy. The reappearance of the same innocent playful child from the opening scenes as the casualty of the building collapse precipitated by the heavy snow enforces the grim reality of the situation.
It’s not a child’s game.
It’s a war.
You get a taste of the struggle between the younger and older views of the ecological war between our two heroes, the White Wizard’s cold war and the hot fires of conflict ignited by Anthony. Pandora’s box opens in a very literal sense via the bomb left by the Anthony in his snowflake-marked box–the catalyst blowing the conflict wide open.
The final scene leaves the reader with August’ and Anthony’s bare humanity on full display. No masks, just the ugly truth of their actions as they stare skyward at gods ruminating in silent judgement. They’ve both had an awakening as the world starts changing around them.
Now where will this snow fall next?