Into the trench we go

Publisher: Comixology Originals
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist & Cover: Jock
Lettering: Steve Wands

Occasionally a book comes along that is so elegant in its simplicity of writing, art and world building that you just end up blown away. Snow Angels Season One is one of those books. It’s a tightly told story about just a few characters in a world of mostly snow and ice. It packs a great punch because it tells that story with such focus that it draws you so fully into the world before you even realise it has. 

It’s the story of three characters: Milliken, our narrator, her younger sister Mae Mae and her Pa. They live in the trench, as they have always done, and follow the three rules: the trench provides, you must never leave the trench and the trench never ends. These are the basis for the faith of the family, the underpinning for their actions, and by the end of this first volume, this first season, prove to not be as solid as the ice of the trench.

The way these rules are laid out as we are introduced to our characters is done without fanfare. We see Milliken, her father and sister. Milliken describes these rules as they skate through the trench, a trench of white and snow. This sets the tone for the world where they live, the art reflecting the harshness of these rules and the place they call home.

Of course tragedy will forever change their time in the trench. The starkness of blood against snow is an image that reoccurs throughout this book and it never loses its impact. That red on the page means something every time. This isn’t about gore, it’s about something more visceral, more innate. Artist Jock knows exactly when to deploy colour, and how much. It’s immensely skilful, especially in a world that isn’t by its nature colourful.

There are other moments where colour creeps in but again it’s sparing. When they light a fire it’s bright and the light plays off the surrounding environment beautifully. As it does when Milliken activates her birthday present from her Pa, a strange artefact that projects glowing lines Mae Mae confidently describes as a map.

There’s other uses of red which seem to be a signifier for danger. The other colours are present but muted, Mae Mae’s blonde hair is one example. It’s dull and therefore fits into the general blues and greys that define the world’s ice and snow.

Yet the art gives it a really strong depth. Dark inked lines give the snow and ice depth and a three dimensionality. They help build the atmosphere, there’s no doubt about the harshness of the environment. At the same time they also give strong facial expressions to the characters displaying their emotions, from happiness to fear and stress. There’s some really tense moments in this book and several times I gasped and wondered what would happen next. While there are a few twists and turns, the mythology of the world is fleshed out in a natural way. Besides we get more insight into the family, including at points a flashback (the art in the flashback contrasts happiness of the past with the tension of the present so well).

The art balances tight panels concentrating on the characters’ faces with long panels showing off the vastness of the trench and the landscape around it. Just as the story goes from being about these three characters to touching on the implications of the wider world and universe.

I will add that the lettering here is great. There’s a mix of quite long conversations with short quick phrases and exclamations. Each time the lettering feels enough, keeping the dialogue moving along in step with the writing and the art. It’s another strong aspect of the book as we follow along the characters journey.

As we see Milliken, Mae Mae and their father travel and dealing with tragedy, we see their family dynamic; we see the immaturity of the girls and their relationship. Even when there’s mortal peril they cannot help acting like the child siblings we know they are. It is a testament to Jeff Lemire’s writing that the family feels like a real family; even in such a strange world as the trench, they are still quite human.

As the book goes along we can see the intersection of the mythology of the trench and the snowman and the hints that perhaps the mythology is based on something of an unpalatable truth. Millikan and Mae’s father has been hiding things about his past and those revelations are mixed up with the beliefs they have been brought up in the trench. Mae Mae clings to her beliefs like the younger child she is, but Milliken is questioning them through everything that has happened as a sibling on the cusp of adolescence would. 
One thing that stays with you throughout is that this is a strong family unit and though Milliken may not be her sister’s biggest fan she still loves her. The shocking events of the last part of this season one lead to her having to dig deep and find new strength. The final panes of small figures in a white out world are very poignant.

It’s the sort of book that will stick with you even after you have finished the last panel. The writing and art are perfectly in sync and provide a high quality reading experience. I do recommend reading Snow Angels, it is a worthwhile read and will leave you wanting more which, is the best way a book can end.  Roll on season two.

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