The cover of “Colder” #1 catches a reader’s eye with its over-the-top gore, but it’s misleading, because this mini-series by writer Paul Tobin and artist Juan Ferreyra is not splatter horror, but an unusual and original psychological thriller.
It’s a heavy-handed observation, but I couldn’t help noticing that “Colder” starts off with a splashy inferno, decades in the past, and grows subtler and more chilling as its story progresses. Villain Nimble Jack ushers the reader into the present day, in a brutal scene behind locked doors. Jack’s like a flamboyant, supernatural, cruder version of Norton from Agatha Christie’s mystery “Curtain,” and it’s the first time I’ve seen this type of character in comics.
As “Colder” #1 progresses, the obvious, heavier horror of the opening scenes is dialed down into background creepiness. The action slows within comforting domestic interiors, over hot mugs of tea, making the final twist of “Colder” #1 even more alarming.
The protagonist, Declan, has few lines and very little screen-time, but the supporting cast is built up around him, defining him like negative space popping around a dark silhouette. Every character in “Colder” #1 has a distinctive voice and look.
Ferreyra’s character design is crucial to the unusual strength of the supporting cast of “Colder” #1. In the scene that introduces Reece Talbot, Tobin sketches out an independent woman who makes unusual choices — someone unbending but admirable. Ferreyra’s choice to clothe Reece in a long vintage day dress reinforces first impressions, as does his decision to give Nimble Jack long side bangs and suspenders. Without motion lines, Ferreyra’s art communicates Jack’s liquid, bendy movements and Reece’s reserve and self-possession.
The lead characters, Reece and Declan, are sympathetic, but they don’t look, talk or walk like a bland Everyman or a Mary Sue. The character of the unnamed plump policewoman is a type — the down-to-earth, caring tough cookie — but something about how Ferreyra draws her face and movements make her go a little beyond just type, and I hope she gets a name, and isn’t relegated only to stereotypical sidekick status.
Although the central conflict is between two men, Tobin and Ferreyra devote equal time to developing two female characters and the interaction between them. Tobin knows how to use dialogue to advance character as well as plot. Reece’s conversation with the policewoman serves to flesh out a lot of backstory, but it doesn’t feel like an information dump, because the two have distinct voices and their back-and-forth has a comfortable rhythm.
On the two next-to-last pages, Reece’s unnerved actions and angry dialogue with herself strike a true note, and Tobin’s pacing and Ferreyra’s accompanying shifts in camera angle are also just right.
The final page of “Colder” #1 demonstrates that cliffhangers aren’t limited to cackling villains, hostage situations, grisly carnage or other stale and intrinsically shocking tableau. It’s a pleasure to rediscover that shock can come from something utterly mundane, so long as the writer and artist have structured events so that a very simple action is a deliciously mind-blowing surprise. For a horror/supernatural suspense comic, the subtlety and lack of gore on the final page is unexpectedly and delightfully counter to expectations.
In this debut, Tobin and Ferreyra have established conflict and cast and stirred up curiosity about a supernatural mystery. I have no idea where Tobin and Ferreyra are going with “Colder,” but I intend to find out.