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Graphic Novel Review: Whiteout by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber

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In 1998, Oni press started publishing novelist Greg Rucka‘s first attempt at writing comics. This was, it turned out, the beginning of a leap forward in Rucka’s career: while he was fairly successful and respected as a novelist, he was tremendously well-received in the comics field. Since then, Rucka has written known characters for Marvel and mostly DC, has invented at least three new series (Gotham Central and Queen & Country being the most prominent), and has received three Eisner and one Harvey awards. He is considered one of the most important voices in contemporary mainstream comics.

Ten years later, reading Whiteout, which was first collected into a trade paperback only in 2007, one can see why.

Carrie Stetko is the U.S. Marshall to America’s largest base of operations on the continent of Antarctica – McMurdo base. She’s not generally a happy person, but down at the bottom of the world, in what’s known to the few local inhabitants as “the ice”, she’s as happy as she’s likely to get. And then someone has to go and commit a murder on her turf.

Stetko, bulldog like, sinks her teeth into the case, initially with very little success but much attitude. As things progress, they also deteriorate: teamed up, against both of their wills, with English spook Lily Sharpe, they face an increasing body count from a faceless foe in a fur hat. Stetko, on the edge of the world, is forced to relive old memories and re-evaluate her allegiances.

Rucka delivers a solid detective story. While not groundbreaking, it is certainly a well-crafted Whodunit, keeping the suspense up without losing credibility. It is, however, Rucka’s attention to detail that makes this a winner: his solid research on Antarctica, crisp and reliable dialogue, and believable characters. While the heroine is indubitably Stetko – and what a memorable, no-nonsense, tragic character she is – the supporting cast all make sense and are not left behind.

Rucka, however, didn’t achieve all of this on his own. His partner, artist Steve Lieber, is responsible for everything but the words – pencils, inks, lettering, it’s all Lieber. Here, again, there’s nothing groundbreaking – the paneling is very standard, the art straightforward without slipping into excessive realism. But, again, the attention to detail shines through: the way his snow looks when one falls into it is quite different than the way it looks when blown by 300 km/h winds; the McMurdo buildings look right; and the human body reacts properly when bent in odd-angles by an angry U.S. Marshall. More than this, though: Lieber’s cold, sterile, wind-swept Antarctica is as fresh and liberating as it is deadly, and one can see what Stetko finds in it and why she cringes from the hot, crowded, messy company of other humans.

Whiteout hasn’t reinvented comics, nor does it really stretch the boundaries of the genre – any genre. But it is a work without flaw, pristine and beautiful, and that is certainly enough.

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About Adam Klin Oron