(W) W. Maxwell Prince, (A) Martin Morazzo, (C) Chris O’Halloran
*Warning: This Review Contains Minor Spoilers*
Very rarely do horror comics send a genuine shiver down the spine of the reader. More often than not, the “horror” boils down to ultraviolence, gore, and the occasional stunt-killing of a main character. Very little of those tropes can be found in Ice Cream Man #1. Sure, there is some disgusting visuals, but they are not the primary source of the horror. That comes from the script by writer W. Maxwell Prince and the expectation-defying visuals by Martin Morazzo and Chris O’Halloran.
One advantage that Ice Cream Man has over other horror titles is that Prince, Morazzo, and O’Halloran do not have to stretch their story over the course of several issues. Described as the first in a series of disparate one-shots (better known to most as an anthology), the creative team is forced to tell their story within the space of a single issue. Though the door is open for a return to this world (like most things horror), readers are given a satisfying, complete tale.
The premise of Ice Cream Man #1 is simple. Some may even call it derivative. But, it is effective. Set in a small, picturesque town with manicured lawns and white-picket fences, children and their parents are partaking in the summer ritual of buying treats from the neighborhood ice cream man in his ice cream truck. Wearing a white suit, a hat, and a smile, the friendly man is serving up treats to everyone, but there is concern when one of the children shows up without parents to accompany him. It happens that, unbeknownst to everyone, the boy’s parents are dead and rotting in their home, having been killed by his pet spider. From here, Prince’s story is one of subverted expectations, including who or what exactly is the monster behind everything.
What makes Ice Cream Man so effective is the seemingly low-stakes of the scenario. There is no threat that the world is going to blow up or that our existence will cease to continue. When the stakes are raised so high, they become unbelievable. That’s why big, superhero event comics (or even movies) carry little dramatic weight. Even when they promise “things will never be the same,” the story always work out in the end. Ice Cream Man does not have those world-ending stakes. Instead, the setting is small, intimate, and familiar. That makes its story all the more terrifying.
This world is wonderfully captured by the art team of Martin Morazzo and Chris O’Halloran. Morazzo excels in bringing to life an idyllic American neighborhood. Streets are lined with quarter-acre lots featuring perfect, two story houses, green, grassy lawns, and children playing in the summer’s sun. This is accentuated by O’Halloran’s colors, who basks the issue in the gold and red hues of twilight. The image of decaying bodies is just as well-executed, thanks in part to the issue’s pacing and layouts making for an effective page-turning reveal. If the art does stumble, it is in the reveal of this issue’s “monster” – a werewolf-like creature that just does not look convincing, especially when juxtaposed against an otherwise realistic world.
When it comes to the titular Ice Cream Man and his motivations, Prince and Morazzo do an excellent job in keeping readers on their toes. While the solicitations and interviews leading up to this issue make it known that he is a villain, the story itself does not contain such upfront clarity. When first introduced, he appears as a relatively normal, friendly member of society. Later, the reader is later teased with the possibility that he might be some sort of hero (even a superhero) with a ridiculous moniker. Of course, the story does eventually catch with our expectations. When it does, Morazzo ensures that the reader is unsettled.
The most enduring stories of the horror do not rely on violence and gore, but instead manage to incite genuine dread and suspense that carries on once the story is over. True classics such as Halloween, The Omen, and The Exorcist do not simply shock audiences. They play mind games so that when the final credits role, the horror lingers. This comic follows that horror ideology. Ice Cream Man #1 delivers a suspenseful page-turner that is as chilling as the titular dairy treat.