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Includes Issues:The Winter Men 1-5; The Winter Men Winter Special 1
Issue Dates:September 2005 – November 2006, February 2009
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This review is spoiler free! Skip To The Verdict? »

“I’m going to tell you some things I never thought I’d tell an American… there were things that were larger than life once… there were super-men…”

Thus begins the story of Kalenov, an ex-soldier from the elite rocket troops, now working in Moscow as a enforcer for hire after the end of the Cold War.

He is a man with a past filled with pain which has left him drunken and just one step away from the road of no return.

He can at least be glad that his past is firmly behind him now. Or so it would appear.

When a girl is kidnapped, Kalenov thinks all is not what it seems. He is drawn back towards his past, with the how and why escaping him.

Enlisting the help of a couple of old friends he sets about unraveling the mystery of this girl. What is so special about her?

The Winter Men was originally pitched as an 8 issue Vertigo series and then later dropped to 6 issues when it was swapped to Wildstorm.

As with a lot of comics, the publishing problems didn’t end there either – there was a gap of over two years between 5th and 6th installments. In the end the sixth (and final) issue was published as an oversized 40 page special.

The book is written by Brett Lewis (Bulletproof Monk) and illustrated by John Paul Leon (Earth X), both of which I was completely unfamiliar with before purchasing this trade.

I read reviews comparing the artwork to Mazzucchelli’s work in Batman: Year One, and stating that this is the book Red Son wishes it was. I am always a bit skeptical of reviews making such claims, but I can say that both of these comparisons were spot on.

Lewis’s writing does indeed make you feel like you now understand Russia and what it would be like to live there; even the McDonalds in the book screamed this is how we do things in Russia.

Furthermore, the dialogue in the book is top notch. I struggle to think of a time when I have read such well crafted dialogue from a writer new to me.

The caption boxes are well placed, giving a certain rhythm to the whole book, making it more enjoyable to read. The plot is written with an almost effortless style that draws you into the story even more as you keep reading, helped along by the natural rhythm. I found myself quite annoyed that is was only around 170 pages in length, as I didn’t want to stop reading it.

My one criticism with the writing is that the last chapter (in issue 6) didn’t contain the same rhythm of the writing as the first 5 chapters, most likely to ensure the story was properly concluded in the final issue.

To quote Kalenov, here introducing the final chapter, ”My little friends, I thought I would have more time to tell you how things ended up, but perhaps for now I will just tell you the good parts…”

Indeed he does. The final chapter is still written to an excellent standard. It just lacks the previous rhythm.

Moving onto to Leon’s artwork now; I mentioned earlier that is similar to Mazzucchelli’s work. The most noticeable difference is that this book is a little more colourful.

The colours are still a bit more limited than the colours in most other modern comics, so like Year One, The Winter Men gives that feeling of the dirty underbelly side of life .

The characters are all drawn with skill such that you learn about them without panels wasted in explanation. An example of this is that Kalenov is always looking ragged, with a plaster on his cheek; instantly the reader knows he is living a rough life.

Add that to the bottle of vodka in his hand and the military uniform he is wearing, you suddenly have a very good idea about his nature.

The backgrounds are also excellent and varying in style throughout the trade. In Russian streets the palette tends to be grey, very bleak and basic. It helps to enforce the mood of the difficult times in this nation.

In other locations this is not the case. The background in New York, with the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance, is still detailed but has colour, perhaps hope. The same can be said of a factory, with many giant machines all elaborately rendered behind the characters.

Even though most of my collection consists of ongoing titles, I have always had a soft spot for stand alone books. You can enjoy them without having to commit to buy more than one volume.

The story is so full of half appearances from characters, each with lives of their own just as interesting as Kalenov’s, that it is hard to believe this book is self contained.

This is probably due to being acclimated to the DCU where every half-decent character gets their own mini-series as a minimum. Unfortunately this isn’t the case but the door is open for Lewis to write more in this universe.

I for one hope that happens.

Verdict:
Five Stars.

This is one of the most often read trades out of my 1000+ titles and it has made its way onto the top shelf of my collection, which is only reserved for my very favourite books.

Essential Continuity:
It is a stand alone book so it doesn’t have any continuity to speak of.

Read first:
Again as a stand alone book it is best to get straight into it.

Read next:
A similar title to this book is Wildstorm’s The Programme, by Peter Milligan.  I stress that it’s similar but not in the same class.

Others may feel like reading Lewis’s other major work Bulletproof Monk.

While reading The Winter Men again today, I asked myself what fans would this book appeal to? It took me a long time to figure it out where I had come across this style of story telling before: Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. So for all you Hellboy fans out there give this a shot. It can be found for around $10 and is a stand alone title (for now?)

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21 Comments Post New »

  1. avatar Ian wrote on at December 13, 2010 8:45 pm:

    Thanks again for bringing this book to my attention, Simon. I’ve put in an order for a copy from Amazon, and I’m looking forward to it.

    As a bonus, since you’ve already reviewed it, I get to read it just for myself!

    [Reply]

  2. avatar Marc wrote on at December 14, 2010 12:06 am:

    Looks great, and what a neat combination of artists on this book! Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll be sure to give this a look.

    And Ian, doesn’t it feel great to start reading a book with the full knowledge that you’ll never review it? It certainly takes a lot of pressure off the reading experience, and I find (ironically, I guess) that I internalize certain books better this way, since I’m not worried about trying to explain them to others.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on December 14th, 2010 at 12:12 am:

    haha, yeah. I try to go into some things in that mindset, but I never really know – I find myself writing in my head. It’s kind of distracting, but also kind of fun, filtering it through my head.

    I actually read books again after I’ve reviewed them, if they’re short/modern enough, and just relax with a beer the second time. Or sometimes that’s the first time and I have to pick it up again to review.I guess I don’t really have a set system.

    [Reply]

    avatar Marc replied on December 14th, 2010 at 12:28 am:

    I guess I don’t really have one either. Although right now I’m very much looking forward to reading Y: The Last Man from start to finish in a day or two, knowing in advance that I’m not going to write a word about them. (I’ve read the first six or so trades already, but not the last four…plus I read the first six several years ago, so now that I have them all I’m just going to start over.) I’m going to do the same with Ex Machina once I get the final volume. I’m much further along in that series, but I’ll be starting it over so I can do a marathon read-through for it too.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on December 14th, 2010 at 12:31 am:

    oh man, Y. I just wrote a huge comment, but I’m saving it in a text file, because I realized it could ruin the series for you. Read that shit and come back!

    I’m also doing that with Ex Machina. I’ve been waiting since the 3rd book for it to all come out.

    [Reply]

    avatar Marc replied on December 14th, 2010 at 12:58 am:

    Yeah, that’s exactly what I did for Y. I was all caught up when the sixth trade came out, but then lost track of it since there were no more trades at that point. I’ve been waiting for a time when I’d have a few days to myself with absolutely no other obligations to read it all, and that time will finally be here at the end of the week. :)

    I did the same thing for Ex Machina too, and now that the tenth and final trade has come out, it’s time to give it a proper read-through as well. The funny thing about it is that even though I haven’t finished them, Y and Ex Machina are my top two favorite comic book series. You know something’s awesome when you don’t even have to finish it to realize it’s one of the best things you’ve ever read!

    Anyway, I’ll let you know when I’m finished with Y, and you can just email me whatever it is you have to say about the book. Wouldn’t want to spoil anyone else who may be looking at this page!

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on December 14th, 2010 at 1:17 am:

    I’m basically doing the same thing with Fables. I buy em when they get released, but I’m not planning on reading any more of it until it’s finally done, even if it’s ten years from now. For creator owned self contained series, I just like it better that way.

    Impossible for something like the DCU, but for Ultimate Marvel I do it in bursts – waiting until there’s at least 10 or 20 new trades (those ones are thin.)

    Just let me know when you’re done with Y, haha. I can’t say anything!

    [Reply]

    avatar Marc replied on December 14th, 2010 at 1:26 am:

    I was actually doing the same thing with Fables (I think I’ve read the first three trades) but it seems apparent now that Willingham has no intention of ever ending the series. So I just decided to hell with it, I’d read up to the point that was originally supposed to be the series finale, which is right before the crossover, I think (don’t quote me on that though, haha).

    So yeah, I’m going to re-start the series as soon as I finish Y and read up to the twelfth trade or whatever it is. I’ve heard its quality starts to wane around that point, so if that’s the case I’ll probably just stop. Or maybe I’ll keep going and stay current, who knows. There aren’t any series that I’m currently doing that with, so it might be nice to have one if the quality is still good. I haven’t decided yet whether or not I’ll review all the Fables trades or just keep my thoughts to myself like with Y and Ex Machina.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on December 14th, 2010 at 1:31 am:

    People have been telling me lately that it’s really great right now. And that 100th issue looks awesome.

    Well, everything ends some time, right?

    As for reviewing that kind of series, it’s a tough thing. I feel like it’s easier to just review vol. 1, if the whole series is of a set quality and the creative team stays the same. I guess I’ll think about it more when I’m actually reading those books.

    [Reply]

    avatar daemonicragnorak replied on December 14th, 2010 at 8:01 am:

    The 100th issue was really good and as he says in it “thanks for the support and here’s to the next hundred issues”.
    So I think you will be waiting a while before you can read “all” of the Fables back to back. I agree that the quality dipped around the 12th trade but the crossover (13th) and the two trades yet to be released are back to it’s higher standard I’m happy to report.

    Also thanks guys about the review and everything; it is nice for me to have found a gem that at least 2 other comic obsessed souls have yet to discover.

    @Marc enjoy your BKV-fest; I have recently just read through the entire Ex Machina trades when number ten arrived last week.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on December 14th, 2010 at 3:14 pm:

    I don’t mind waiting a while. At least it’s a title where it’s easier to avoid spoilers than say, Batman.

    [Reply]

  3. avatar daemonicragnorak wrote on at December 14, 2010 8:04 am:

    Also like to thank “Kris Kalenov” for his kind words about the review on twitter. I don’t have twitter so cannot thank him myself, but Ian was spot on when he said “I’m sure Simon will be ecstatic just to see the author read his take on it.” Ecstatic is right on the money if you add in a spot of disbelief :)

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on December 14th, 2010 at 3:13 pm:

    yeah, I didn’t realize that was Brett Lewis’s twitter account until yesterday. I’ve always thought it’s great how involved most creators are with the community, makes me feel like it’s really worth it to be writing about this field.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on December 15th, 2010 at 3:05 am:

    I don’t know if you can see it without being friends with Lewis, but there’s a bunch of behind the scenes stuff for The Winter Men in this facebook gallery.

    [Reply]

    avatar daemonicragnorak replied on December 15th, 2010 at 7:44 am:

    That album is a good find, and it has gone straight into my bookmarks.

    [Reply]

  4. avatar Ian wrote on at January 10, 2011 10:23 pm:

    Finished reading this. Really great stuff, absolutely agree with the review.

    [Reply]

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