REVIEW: The Winter Men

The Winter MenThe Winter Men
Writer: Brett Lewis
Artist: John Paul Leon
Colorist: Dave Stewart & Melissa Edwards
Letterer: John Workman & Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics / Wildstorm
Softcover / 176 Pages / $19.99

I completely missed The Winter Men when it was originally released in issue back in 2005, mostly because at that point in time most of the stuff coming out from Wildstorm just didn’t register with me. And it still doesn't. That’s less to do with Wildstorm and more to do with the fact that I just got to a place where after the end of The Authority and Planetary in the early 2000s (yes, yes — Planetary officially ended last month), where I just moved on and didn’t care anymore about the imprint.

After reading The Winter Men I might have to start giving more Wildstorm books some scrutiny. It might not be a great book, but it is certainly a very good one.

Post-Cold War Russia, or more specifically, Moscow, is a place where hard men with special skills can find a lot of work. If you are, say, ex-Spetsnaz then you might find that there are a lot more job opportunities for you than for someone with a Bachelors of Science in Communications from a small Upstate New York liberal arts college. If you’re ex-Spetsnatz you can join the local militia or perhaps the local police or work as a bodyguard for Russia’s new rich or you can even start your own Mafiya, which seems to be Russia’s biggest growth industry. Working these jobs are where we find The Winter Men (one of which is a woman, but The Winter Men sounds much cooler than The Winter People) as the story opens. Actually, one of The Winter Men is still in a Siberian gul– prison, and he might be the scariest of them all. Which is probably why he's in the prison.

There are a few things that I really love about The Winter Men and one (pretty major) thing that I really don’t care for.

The first thing that I really love is the art from John Paul Leon. He’s someone whose work I’ve really dug ever since I first took note of him on Earth X. He does gritty and street level stuff exceptionally well, and that’s right in my wheel house. He is a deft hand at using shadow to create mood without the book becoming noirish. And there is some incredible face acting in here. John Paul Leon is always an artist I keep an eye out for.

The Winter Men go shoppingWriter Brett Lewis has a great ear for dialogue and next to the art it’s probably the strongest thing about this book. There seems to be a resigned yet hopeful general attitude in the modern Russian (as well as a healthy sense of humor) and Lewis nails all of that. His character work and dialogue is really strong here. That strong sense of character parallels with the greatest strength of the book, which is the portrayal of life in Moscow in the Post-Cold War era. The chaos. The conflict between old school and new. The constant struggle between the warring Mafiyas. Brett Lewis creates a very vibrant world here, a world that comes alive on the page. Chapter 4 (or issue 4) is one of the best things that I’ve read in a long time, and had I been reading this series in issues I would have proclaimed it one of the best single issues of the year. Chapter 4 is almost entirely divergent from the main plot and just follows two of the main characters as they go through their day in Moscow — eating meals, doing jobs, getting in fights. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, it’s chilling, it’s expertly paced and constructed, and the art is fantastic. I actually let out an audible “wow” when I finished that chapter. It was really impressive, so impressive in fact that I put down the book for the night because I wanted to ruminate a bit on what I had just read. I wish the entire book had been just about these characters living and surviving in Moscow.

And that leads to the one thing that I didn’t love so much about The Winter Men which was the over all storyline.

The Winter Men were involved in some Russian super soldier program that spawned one genuinely super powered being, and a whole bunch of Spetsnaz soldiers in mecha gear (The Winter Men). And the entire story in this trade paperback seems to involve some sort of secret about their time as The Winter Men and the need to stop a little girl with a super charged liver from falling into the hands of the wrong people. If that sounds confusing and vague, I’m right there with you because I didn’t quite follow the main story myself. I was so excited about what was going in the every day lives of these characters that whenever "The Plot" took center stage I got annoyed and just wanted the book to get back to Nikki the gangster fighitng rival Mafiyas for the rights to control the Coca-Cola distrubtion in a certain meighborhood. That stuff was fascinating. Luckily, the main plot exists mostly in the background until the final two chapters — and even then it only really dominates the forefront for the final chapter — which not surprisingly, was my least favorite of the book. Had this story just been about the ex-Spetsnatz living in Moscow I would have been over the moon about The Winter Men, instead the super hero elements (which honestly felt shoe-horned in) knock the book down from a five star book to a four. That is how good the art, the dialogue, and the characters and their every day stories are.

This is once instance where the sum of the books parts is greater than the whole.


Kris Lalenov of The Winter Men


If this sounds good to you, keep an eye out for The Winter Men. It’s in stores today and at Amazon.


  1. Thanks for the review Conor. I was intrigued by this book when i saw it in the comcis section, but i didn’t know what to make of it (other than some fantastic JP Leon art). The iFanbase convinced me to pick it up but the review only solidified my decision. Excellent timing!

  2. Sounds pretty good, and I like the little JPL art I’ve seen.

  3. It was four years ago when I was visiting a friend in another town and we went to his LCS. He pointed to issue 3 or 4 of Winter Men, I believe and said "that book is great. You should get it." I stared back at him blankly, then looking down at the copies of All Star Superman and some forgettable Image series in my hands. I shook my head. "Eh, I’m buying enough. I’ll wait for the trade."

    I eventually got impatient and about a year and a half ago ordered all the back issues for the (then) incomplete series. And I still consider this one of the best investments I’ve made, comics-wise. I can’t argue with Conor’s critique; the superhero element is the weakest part and it ends on it’s lowest note (also Issue 4 is one of my favorite single issues ever). But the art and dialog, pacing and story (for all but the last chapter) worked so well, I view the last chapter as an ending we didn’t need but got anyway. Considering it was meant to be an 8 issue series and shortened to 6 midway through, I’m just glad it works as well as it did.

    Anyway, great review and thanks for giving some time on a great book that needs/needed it.


  4. I love this book, I worshipped the very ground it walked on as it came out, despite the delays.  The main reason was probably the art which I felt was up there with Batman Year One Mazzuchelli.  The other reason was the central character of the resigned, world weary Kalenov, who I thought was great.  While I can agree with the problems of the plot (helped even less by the sporadic shipping when reading in issues) everything else was just magic.  It was superheroes done by way of Le Carre or The Bourne Supremacy, with that same almost melancholic feel for post cold war Europe.  I could almost feel the cold Moscow air on my face.  I was wishing for a nice hardcover and felt that it deserved such treatment, but I may still have to get the trade, if only to sit it on my shelf.

  5. Saw this on this week’s pull list – sounded interesting as I’ve never heard of it before so I’ll give it a try

  6. I’ve added this to my wish list. Thanks for letting me know it exists.

  7. I picked this up on a whim because I saw it was on Josh and Conor’s pull lists. In the store I couldn’t decide it I wanted to get it before I heard anything about. "Perhaps I should wait to see what they report, before I spend the $20" I thought. In the end I bought it and, after this review, am quite glad I did.

    Thanks iFanboy! 

  8. Not exactly a defense of the story, because as it stands, it’s pretty choppy, but originally this was supposed to be a 10 issue mini (maybe even more than that back when it was originally a Vertigo series several years before it finally came out as a Wildstorm book). And then it went down to 6, and then down to 4, plus a super-sized special. So clearly Brett Lewis had to summarize a lot in a very short space, which is a shame.

    Speaking of Brett Lewis, has anyone else ever heard of him? I remember doing a search back when issue 4 came out and I couldn’t find anything, mostly because it’s a pretty common name. I’d love to see if his knack for dialogue translates over into other works.

    Also, if you liked the cold war/super powers thing, you should try Wildstorm’s ‘Programme". Similar in tone if not in style, but definitely an example of the interesting Peter Milligan that wrote Shade and Enigma and is now killing it on Hellblazer.

  9. @MrBeebs – This is the first comic I’ve heard Bret Lewis writing since Wintermen.

    Not exactly what I expected/hoped, for his follow-up.

  10. Sounds great. I was looking for something new…..and semi off the beaten path.