Collects: Whiteout #1-4 (1998)
Released: 2001 (Oni Press)
Format: 128 pages / black and white / $11.95 / ISBN: 9780966712711
What is this?: Carrie Stetko, a U.S. marshal in Antarctica, investigates a murder.
The culprits: Writer Greg Rucka and artist Steve Lieber
Since I was planning to see the movie Whiteout this weekend, I thought I would be timely for once and review the original trade paperback.
Whiteout came out in 1998, before writer Greg Rucka became a big-name comics writer (he was a novelist at this point) or artist Steve Lieber became a regular contributor at DC. It was an unusual mystery series from a small publisher in Oregon. I have no idea why I picked it up; it was certainly the first non-Marvel / DC TPB I’d ever bought, or even read. But it was good enough it led me down the road to Rucka’s novels, to my regret.
Whiteout is set in Antarctica, where Carrie Stetko, a disgraced U.S. marshal, has to investigate a murder, a man found murdered out on the ice where a camp has just vanished. In her investigations, the bodies start piling up, the cold takes its toll, and she runs into a Brtish secret agent.
As a mystery, I’m not sure what to make Whiteout. Stetko is one of those investigators who bull their way though the investigation, leaving a wide swath of destruction behind them and the shockwave of their movement creating a smaller blast in front of them. This is common for mysteries, although it makes more sense in stories when the suspect pool is larger. Using Antarctica for a setting leaves Whiteout with a limited pool of suspects, and one would think a more subtle approach might be better suited for the story. But perhaps that’s just my stylistic choice.
Rucka spends a lot of time on Stetko as a character and on Lily Sharpe, a British secret agent who spends most of her time in Antarctica contravening treaties. The mystery isn’t overly complex — although it does have an unexpected twist or two — so Stetko’s personal journey has to be strong to deliver a gripping story. Stetko is an interesting character, but the presence of Sharpe pulls the emphasis away from Stetko. Time with Sharpe could be used instead to develop Stetko and tie together her life before the ice with her investigation, and I never really felt the two parts of her story meshed. Her life before got her sent to Antarctica, but it doesn’t lead her to see revenge or redemption or anything. It’s simply a backstory. Sharpe doesn’t ever advance beyond irritating sidekick.
When I originally read Whiteout, those twists pulled me in and made me interested in Rucka’s other work. In retrospect, I should have known better about Rucka’s novels. Hell, I even read his “Queen and Country” novel, A Gentleman’s Game.
Lieber is outstanding in Whiteout; on my second reading, his art is clearly the best thing about the book. He works in black and white, a choice I don’t think was his, but it’s perfect for a mystery set in Antarctica and it’s perfect for Lieber. His realistic style is a great fit for the story Rucka tells, and his realism doesn’t allow for a “perfect” Carrie Stetko. Stetko is more real for her physical imperfections, and they work better for such an imperfect character than the plastic, idealized women in many other comics. He has a great eye for detail, and his Antarctica feels cold. Whiteout might be more effective than an air conditioner on a hot summer day, really.
So overall it’s worth looking at, although it isn’t the absorbing story I remember from almost a decade ago. Next week, I’ll look at the movie and compare it to the TPB.
Rating: (3 of 5)