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Friday, July 07, 2006

Cold Heat #1Cold Heat #1 -- Somewhere between Chester Brown's Underwater and David Lapham's Stray Bullets lies Cold Heat, which seems to be more than the amateurish effort it wants to appear to be, and yet is so impenetrable that one is left little doubt why Diamond would not want to bother with it.

Critics of any artform have a duty to look beyond the base financial motivations of a company like Diamond, a virtual monopoly within that part of comics that is primarily concerned with selling floppy periodical adventure comics to 40-year-old men who enjoy seeing Superman and Batman's minds placed in the bodies of Power Girl and The Huntress (see? I keep up!).

In the greater, recently-expanding world of comics and graphic novels there has been new room made for stories told in comic form. In many bookstores catering to all ages and genders you can find graphic novels about growing up lesbian with a closeted gay father, or dealing with cancer, or coming to grips with what it means to have left your youth behind. These books, and the people who are finding them, out there in the world, are very likely the future of comics. Not because they don't have superheroes, but because unlike most current superhero comics, they tell human stories that resonate deeply with concerns greater than "Hulk smash." The audience is out there for great stories in comic form, and more and more it is finding them.

Cold Heat, published by Dan Nadel's Picturebox Inc., doesn't seem to me to be a great story, although it seems to want to be. The art seems unfinished, but not unaccomplished -- think of Frank Stack's work on Our Cancer Year. The colour palette is limited, but deliberately so, giving it the look of a child colouring with only two crayons, one pink and one blue. It's not an unattractive effect, and in a few places the extraordinary application of colour and art betray the simplistic style being used; the artist knows what he's doing.

I didn't like Cold Heat #1, but not because its creators aren't telling a good story. I didn't like it because I couldn't tell what story it is they are telling, which is why this review is short on plot details. There's an apparent suicide, and a gathering, a martial arts lesson and a dream, but how or why it all fits together remains a mystery (Derik Badman read it multiple times and has a better summary here).

This is a year for comics in which many great stories have been told by master storytellers, and also many superhero comics have been sold, one having nothing to do with the other. The point is that there's a wealth of comics out there right now, no matter what you're looking for. It's no surprise to me that Diamond couldn't be bothered with Cold Heat, because the superhero-fixated Direct Market isn't going to have any use for it, and casual artcomix followers might not be willing to buy twelve issues of this thing to see if it's going anywhere, or if it's just a pretty-coloured mess.

Critics of the comics artform are likely to support Cold Heat because it's different and might turn out to be extraordinary. But that's far from reason enough to recommend you invest five dollars in it. Unless you're a comics critic, or extraordinarily curious about the outer edges of alternative comics circa 2006 CE.



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