Over the past year, “Ice Cream Man” has been lauded to the skies by just about everyone, and for good reason. If you’re not reading this book yet, now’s a perfect time to start. We’ve got a few months to wait for the next issue, and #8 is a hair-raising conclusion to one of the gutsiest and wrenching books I’ve read in years. Read on at your peril, because there are serious spoilers here.
Written by W. Maxwell Prince
Illustrated by Martín Morazzo
Colored by Chris O’Halloran
Lettered by Good Old Neon
“EMERGENCIES” – All around town, folks are in crisis. But this ambulance ain’t stoppin’ for no one, baby. ICE CREAM MAN continues with another dreary confection.
The battle between the Man in Black and the Ice Cream Man is heating up after issue #7’s violent climax. However you choose to see them, be it Americana archetypes warring for freedom of consciousness versus domestic decay or just strange celluloid nightmares duking it out over our shrinking souls, it’s clear that there’s a pitched battle being fought in the forests, bedrooms and diners of our minds. And it’s definitely not clear who’s going to win.
Issue #8 – the final issue of the arc – takes us on an ambulatory (har har) journey through a few familiar locations, and things are getting weird. People appear to have lost their minds whole-cloth, and strange bursts of violence abound. A boy gets attacked by a polar bear, a party clown decides to end it all in a neat little subversion of the King oeuvre, and a relationship goes seriously bad. Through it all travel two aimless EMTs in their ambulance who spend the issue discussing childhood cruelties and cultural emptiness while snacking on various drugs they’ve stolen from the hospital and not stopping to help a single person in peril. Even the ugly, toothy hallucinations they experience in the diner can’t salve their deep wounds of emptiness, and they’re numb to the horror around them. Sound unsettlingly close to your experience of reality these days?
Good. It’s intentional.
I definitely appreciate the anthology approach to horror. “Ice Cream Man” is arguably the finest example of of this storytelling we’ve seen in years, if not decades. When you tackle existential dread and the current state of human consciousness, it’s difficult to paint that entire experience in one go. Better to break it up into individual little nuggets of nastiness and wonder, because the cumulative effect suits the medium and how we process information these days.
Prince, Morazzo, O’Halloran and Good Old Neon are really a dream team on this book, and “Ice Cream Man” has become more than a sum of its parts. Prince’s tightly-wound universe cracks open in this issue, but there’s still a sense of claustrophobia that comes from seeing the same streets, trees and buildings we’ve seen throughout the 8-issue arc. Keeping to familiar landscapes helps ground the universe even as violence rattles the edges. Prince’s dialogue is also notable, because it’s very hard to strike a balance between meaningful introspection and how people actually speak to each other. We’ve been building to a crescendo, so the bald conversations about happiness, purpose and emptiness suit this time around. If they’d come in earlier issues the book would seem cheap, but issue #8 is perfectly paced, especially with the cliffhanger ending telegraphed at by the clean, omnipresent heart monitor.
Morazzo’s fine line continues to impress. It’s so precise there’s a pointillistic effect, which helps bring home the brittle, fragile state of the “Ice Cream Man” universe. Gaunt, wounded-eyed characters drift through O’Halloran’s ghoulishly colored suburban landscape to great effect, and the entire comic still feels like a Hopper painting gone wrong. Many of Morazzo’s panels in this issue feature Jenny and Mike in profile, slightly askew or half out of frame, especially when they’re in the ambulance. These moments are a nice counterpoint to the sprawling backgrounds and larger panels of the neighborhood outside their vehicle.
Pulling up a level, I appreciate when a comic grounds surreal subject material in visual realism, and Morazzo’s style brings home how horrific these characters’ experiences are, and remain. There’s no pressure valve, either visually or structurally: no dream sequences, no blurred lines, no color washes. It’s a nightmare not just because of the forces at work here, but the clean edges of it. Even the gore’s as crystal as can be, and so very pleasing to the eye even as we try to shrink away from it.Continued below
The entire comic is contained and set off by the lettering’s kitsch style. While the Cowboy and the Ice Cream Man communicate in serif typeface, everyone else speaks in more modern type, with very little air in the balloons. The tails are simple and smooth, even when they’re elongated, which helps the balloons blend into Morazzo’s meticulous backgrounds. Most of the issue takes place at night, which means shadows and deeper colors, but the white balloons don’t distract because the text itself is a softer black that blends nicely with the inks. As with the writing, art and colors, there’s no wasted space or unconsidered choice in “Ice Cream Man”. All of these details add up to top-notch craft.
Right now, it’s hard to function in Western culture. Everything comes at us at high speed. Almost every experience, grisly or transcendental, is packaged and delivered to us at all hours, in all states, and is designed to stoke the fires of consumption that live in all of us. As we continue to fight for scraps of bliss, the question remains: will we sink together, or will we rise? The world of “Ice Cream Man” seems to be going down the drain, and it’s unclear if anyone can stop it.
I’m closing this book with the nice delusion that the war for a unified consciousness or mad despair can continue as we jump onto the next arc, but I’m worried that we’re past the tipping point. That’s a perfect way to leave your readers after an exceptional initial run.
Final Verdict: 9.5 “Ice Cream Man” #8 taps into the current zeitgeist by unearthing the not-so-deeply buried specters of post-War America and making us deal with them. Again, or maybe at last.