It’s a creepy new horror anthology series with a distinctly unsettling flavor. Read on for our review of “Ice Cream Man” #1, which contains minor spoilers
Written by W. Maxwell Prince
Illustrated by Martin Morazzo
Colored by Chris O’Halloran
Lettered by Good Old Neon
OVERSIZED FIRST ISSUE! Chocolate, vanilla, existential horror, drug addiction, musical fantasy…there’s a flavor for everyone’s misery. ICE CREAM MAN is a genre-defying comic book series featuring disparate “one-shot” tales of sorrow, wonder, and redemption. Each installment features its own cast of strange characters, dealing with their own special sundae of suffering. And on the periphery of all of them, like the twinkly music of his colorful truck is the Ice Cream Man—a weaver of stories, a purveyor of sweet treats. Friend. Foe. God. Demon. The man who, with a snap of his fingers—lickety split!—can change the course of your life forever.
“What’s your favorite flavor?” That’s the question asked right at the start of this issue, and it’s a fun way to set the tone of this new horror anthology going forward. Every good anthology series, especially in the horror genre, has an inbuilt method of crafting a different “flavor” of the story in every installment, and “Ice Cream Man” is leaning into that metaphor quite literally with its overarching structure.
Following the style of something like “Tales From the Crypt,” writer W. Maxwell Prince has an omniscient narrator built into the story, in this case, the titular Ice Cream Man who, thanks to this book, is guaranteed to terrify you the next time you hear that tinkly music coming down your street. It’s a sickly sweet coating on the existential horror that lies underneath and a perfectly elegant vehicle for a continuing anthology series. After all, the Ice Cream Man already moves from place to place, meeting new people and intersecting their stories, it’s just that here he’s a purveyor of dread and thoroughly chilling imagery.
The tale being weaved this time around is a young, lonely boy whose only friend is one of the deadliest spiders in the world. Just how he came to be the owner of a Brazilian Wandering Spider isn’t exactly explained, but nevertheless, it sets off a chain reaction of grim scenes that follow a fairly simple structure but is nevertheless effective. There’s also a sort of subtextual origin story for the narrator, one that I hope is never explained, as it’s arguably the most effective moment in an issue filled with successfully creepy moments, and that’s partly because it’s left disturbingly ambiguous.
There’s a subtlety at play in Prince’s script that, once you notice it, becomes even creepier. Every so often characters will use phrasing and metaphors that reference flavors or food or ice cream in a way that pervades through the entire book, giving an almost subconscious presence of not only the Ice Cream Man of the title, but a nauseating association between the macabre scenes on the page and the food imagery in your head. Similarly, one of the main characters has a couple moments where she hears a voice that isn’t there, saying some unsettling things that creep into the corners of your subconscious as you read.
Martin Morazzo’s art lines up nicely with the subconscious traps set for the readers in the narrative. There’s an ugliness to the characters, especially the Ice Cream Man himself, that betrays the sweet exterior that’s covering the horrors underneath. Whether it’s the sad look in all of their eyes or the fact that all of their teeth are individually drawn, something that always gives a creepy, uncanny valley vibe, but the cast of this book is effectively realized in a way that sets the tone of the series from the start.
Shadow plays a strong role in Morazzo’s work here, aided in no small part by Chris O’Halloran’s colors. The start of “Ice Cream Man” is set at a sort of twilight of the day, with the bright reds of the sunset in the sky casting a blue-tone dimness over the scenes in the foreground. As the young boy gets home, there are further shadows in his home, as Morazzo and Halloran are doing the comic equivalent of lowering the music to a silence in a horror film, before the page turn that provides the first big jump-scare of the book, drenching the scene in bright yellow light as it does so to really drive home the visceral imagery.Continued below
Similarly, there’s a moment later in the book where the boy meets the Ice Cream Man again, and after witnessing a magical, almost sweet moment, the boy is dropped to the far back of the next panel, and in the foreground is the Ice Cream Man with his back turned away, his face completely obscured by shadow. This is a scary character, one that is definitely more than he appears, but that’s what makes him a perfect analogy for the book as a whole.
“Ice Cream Man” #1 has a central story-of-the-week that’s ultimately not as interesting as what’s going on between the panels, or in those moments that serve an overarching plot or theme of the series. The beauty of an anthology series is that next issue may very well be a completely different flavor, but there’s a sense that the message of this issue, that nothing is what it seems on the outside, and no one knows what goes on behind a closed door (in this case meant both literally and figuratively), will remain a constant throughout the series. As it stands, “Ice Cream Man” uses a fun central conceit to craft individual horror tales that will be entertaining to follow as the series goes on.
Final Verdict: 8.4 – Truly disturbing horror hiding under a sweet, sugary coating, “Ice Cream Man” is a visceral creep-fest.