Eli Winter wakes up every morning and wonders how he got here. He’s a former NYPD Detective living in Moscow and working as a fixer for local crime boss, Nikolai Dubrovsky. Eli is unceremoniously awakened by a summons to one of Dubrovsky’s meth labs. The place is a horror show with blood and bodies everywhere. The money and drugs are gone. Eli is tasked with finding out who did this so his boss can make them pay. The only problem is, the culprit is Eli’s own son, Joseph.
You can’t deny that Red Winter has a pretty solid premise. The only problem I have with it is that the twist is spoiled in the description of the book. This is something that happens at the very end of the first issue, after we’ve become somewhat invested with Eli’s life. It’s part of the selling point and I’m sure this will be explored further in subsequent issues, but we don’t get much more than what’s revealed in the solicitation information for the first issue.
This isn’t to say that Red Winter #1 is a bad read. It’s anything but. You can feel the age and cold weather weighing Eli down. He’s fallen so far in life. We know from the description of the issue that if Eli wasn’t working here, he’d be in an American prison, but this isn’t touched upon too much. I’m eager to understand this relationship because it’s part of what drives him through all these obstacles and pain points.
You can see much of this in Francisco Munoz’s artwork. Eli is rarely at ease. He’s always bunched up trying to keep warm in this harsh climate or on edge because he’s unsure if the man sitting across from him will try to kill him. That could come from his training as an NYPD Detective, but it could also come from the horrors he’s seen along the way.
Writer Michael Gordon quickly defines the core elements of Eli’s personality in Red Winter, however some of important pieces, such as his potentially shady past or even the fact that he has a son, aren’t brought up. We only learn that Eli is a father when Joseph shows up. These pieces could have been peppered in during his early investigation to create a larger impact in the reveal during the final pages. Eli will be forced to make a difficult decision, but we don’t fully understand the possible ramifications of his actions.
Eli’s narration is mostly in the present, dealing with the investigation and the odd feeling he’s getting from it. Letterer Nikki Sherman shows the internal narration in off-white caption boxes which fits in with the overall foreboding nature of Red Winter and its setting.
Red Winter has a gritty noir feel through and through. Colorist Rolands Kalnins makes this area look dreary and depressing. It’s like the sun never shines here. Instead, the area is lit by neon signs on store fronts, cutting through the perpetual smog made by the local oil refinery. Living in this place will kill you literally and figuratively.
The one change in this tone comes when violence breaks out. That’s when the comic is illuminated in shocking red. There are different levels to this too. When a fight scene breaks out, the red is brighter and more vibrant. Early on, as Eli arrives at the meth lab where the violence is past, the red is darker and more subdued, like it’s remembering the bloodshed that occurred. Finally, when Eli is interviewing a possible suspect, the scene is shown in a pinkish glow, as if a fight could break out at any moment.
Red Winter has some great elements at work here. Now that the groundwork has been set with the first issue, I’m eager to see how Eli’s story expands. This one man will have to battle an entire organized crime family to keep his son alive. Even if he’s successful, he could end up in prison. There’s no easy way out of this and that’s the hook that will keep us coming back for more.
Red Winter #1 from Scout Comics is set for release on July 31st, 2019.