Whiteout #1, the 25th Anniversary Edition
Oni Press’ 25th anniversary editions of classic Oni titles begins with this facsimile of issue #1 of Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber’s seminal series Whiteout.
U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko has made Antarctica her home. In the vastness of the ice, she found peace… Or at least, that’s what she thought, until someone commits a murder in her jurisdiction and Stetko must use her detective skills once more or become another victim of this mysterious killer…
So… I’m not sure if you all knew this, but this Greg Rucka guy? He’s kinda somethin’.
Not every comic title gets a 25th anniversary re-release, but I’m pretty happy that this one did because- to my eternal shame- I’d never heard of it. My Rucka fandom goes back to around the time of DC’s Batman arc called No Man’s Land, where an earthquake shatters Gotham City & the U.S. government declares it a hands-off disaster zone. The run was written by Rucka, and I wound up reading through the comics, the novelization, & for good measure I listened to the audio drama. Rucka brought in a wealth of Batman-adjacent heroes for the run, and it was also here that I discovered another DC favorite of mine, The Question (Victor Sage and Rene Montoya’s debut as the faceless inquisitor).
Greg Rucka has a bibliography that reads like… ok, I don’t have a really cool metaphor, but it’s a really long list. His novels cover a broad spectrum, starting with the adventures of bodyguard Atticus Kodiak, branching into the world of espionage with Queen & Country (from his own comic series), & his Jad Bell books. In comics, much of Rucka’s early work throughout the 2000’s was for DC. The guy has done just about everything there is to do in the industry, and he’s done it phenomenally. With Whiteout, he tackled a whodunnit procedural set in the frigid wasteland of Antarctica. And this is one of the things that Greg Rucka does better than most… he takes a pretty normal situation- if you wanna call 1st degree homicide “normal”- and twists it around until it’s barely recognizable. The guy actually tricks his readers into thinking that they’re reading something that’s never been done before, because he takes all of the expectations you bring into his work, dumps it all into a big pile of tropes, and then slaps it all around like it’s fun.
Personally, I picture all this happening amidst fits of giggles and declarations of “Oh, they’re gonna hate me for this…”. I might be wrong, but kinda hoping that I’m not.
Another hallmark of Greg Rucka’s work is the characters that he writes. I mentioned that his spin with The Question(s) brought the character(s) into my world and made them some of my absolute favorites. With Whiteout he introduced Carrie Stetko, a US Marshall whose career took a sharp downward turn when she killed a suspect under questionable circumstances. So far, only glimpses of the incident have been revealed but I’m sure Rucka will be visiting that well in upcoming issues. But what the gambit does is showing us a good cop in disgrace, at the end of what might have been a stellar career now shunted off to a frozen hell and left to squirm. What Stetko does from there is anything but what the brass might’ve expected, and that’s excel. These are all common tropes, almost essential ones, that Rucka picks out of a pile and makes something new by taking advantage of a setting that’s more oppressive than the stomping grounds of your average hard-bitten detective.
Now we get to dig into what Steve Lieber brings to the table, starting with the creative choice of going full black and white. I have some opinions on black & white comics. It doesn’t always work, particularly if the artist tries too hard to make up for the lack of color by adding excessive details. Too many lines in a black and white book can get in the way, leaving the page a mess of visual information that doesn’t help the story. In Whiteout, I don’t think Lieber could’ve made a better choice than to go with the format. At its core, this is a story with two antagonists- the murderer, and Antarctica itself, where temperatures hit an average of -34 degrees Celsius in the winter. Where the black & white really comes into play is when Carrie Stetko’s investigation takes her outside in the middle of a blizzard. The white takes over the page, and a reader is put into Carrie’s POV, minus the frigid temperatures.
Even before that, Lieber lays out just enough detail for us to grab hold of, but never clutters the page to the point of distraction. This entire story is laid out in relative confinement, from the enclosed living spaces inherent to Antarctic research stations to the great outdoors where we’re still kept to an enclosed environment of the book’s namesake, a whiteout blizzard. We see what we need to see, and the feelings of isolation- both literal and abstract- come across on every page, in every panel. That mindset has to be considered Steve Lieber’s bread & butter, because when I looked back at his list of credits, I realized that I’ve reviewed another great comic that he’d done, the spelunking tour de force, Underground.
There are a lot of books out there that try to do what this creative team has done, and the fact that Whiteout is seeing a new release 25 years after its original says pretty much all it needs to. Greg Rucka handles crime drama as well as anyone, and Steve Lieber can pull the reader’s eye through settings that define “claustrophobic” to a tee. If I had to name one fault in this opening issue, it’s that it triggered my own impatience… I didn’t want to wait for the release of individual issues, and knowing that this wasn’t a new title, I’ve gone & ordered the collected trade.
Perfect books are hard to come by. So when I find one, it’s kind of a big deal.
Final Score: 13/13