Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews — now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Cold Spots’ #1, out August 22 from Image Comics.
THIS REVIEW OF ‘COLD SPOTS’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
By Brendan F. Hodgdon. Fear is not always the adrenaline-churning, pulse-quickening, stomach-flipping shock that one gets from jump scares and immediate physical harm. Sometimes fear can be a quiet, perpetual, deliberate thing, lurking in the shadows of melancholy and depression. And sometimes, fear comes not just from the unknown future, but from the fully-remembered past. In the new Image title Cold Spots, Cullen Bunn and Mark Torres dramatize this creeping combination of regret and dread to unsettling effect.
The introductory beats of this issue are oldies-but-goodies: an embittered fellow named Kerr is hired by his former employer to track down the man’s runaway daughter Alyssa and granddaughter Grace. It’s classic mystery novel stuff, very familiar and an ideal foundation for exploring a new supernatural conceit. Bunn exploits this foundation as well as you’d expect, using the comfort of genre trappings to ease us into the larger mystery. But what’s more, those trappings actually play right into the themes of the story.
The hints of Kerr’s relationship with Alyssa and his recent sobriety speak to a sense of regret and desired redemption that blend nicely with a story of the unsettled dead. And as the story progresses, Bunn and Torres’ escalation of their theme gives us a relatable emotional connection to their story. We more easily connect to our hero because we relate to his sense of loss, and we fear what he might find on his quest and how it will relate to that loss. It causes us to reflect on our own emotions and the fears they inspire, which amplifies the dread anticipation of what the next twist in the tale will be.
Bunn is also very thoughtful in how he deploys the ghostly elements of the story, and what purpose they serve. The opening segment, a quick glimpse of the spooky world we’re about to enter, doesn’t really play as scary in any overt sense. Rather, it leans closer to sadness mixed with unease, and the apparitions around Kerr don’t seem to pose a threat at all. This isn’t unheard of in ghost stories; indeed, in many classics of the genre the danger is projected onto these spirits by the living souls they encounter.
By opening the story with this type of ambiguity, Bunn lets us chew on the tone he’s setting and what the apparitions represent. From there, he plays things subtle, planting small details here and there that hint at a creeping danger surrounding Kerr’s assignment without overplaying his hand. By the time we get to the brutal climax we’re more than a little uncomfortable already, and witnessing the true danger to Kerr only heightens that sensation. But even when mortal danger explodes into the story, it’s still framed by a regret-tinged interaction that ties it all back to the rest of the issue.
The ghosts themselves are quite effective so far, thanks in large part to Torres’ designs. He leans into the uncanny valley, creating ghosts that recall humans while remaining otherworldly and inscrutable. Their quiet creepiness is amplified by the artist’s overall minimalist approach. His panels are static, often feeling detached and removed from the characters with a great deal of negative space. It provides a level of unnatural stillness and loneliness throughout the book that feels right at home with the ideas at play. Often the characters feel almost frozen in time, stuck in place by their misgivings and mourning. Just on a composition and framing level, Torres sells a lot of the thematic underpinnings of the narrative to tangible effect.
Cold Spots #1 is a stripped-down, archetype-driven comic. But wrapped in the minimalism is an effective exploration of challenging emotions, ones that give the issue a resonance that transcends the genre framework on which it’s built. Thanks to a creative team working comfortably in-sync, this is definitely a miniseries worth checking out. To miss it is to be haunted by regret.
Written by Cullen Bunn.
Art and design by Mark Torres.
Letters by Simon Bowland.
8 out of 10
‘Cold Spots’ #1 hits stores August 22.