Advance Review: The 12-Step Program From Hell In `Ice Cream Man’ #32

by Tom Smithyman


From the brilliantly conceived cover to page after page of characters struggling with 12 steps to battle their dependency issues, this installment illustrates the real-life horrors of recovering addicts. It is a sobering read on multiple levels, but well worth the investment of time.


For many addicts, the road to recovery begins with a 12-step program. You know the drill: Admit that you are powerless over the addiction. Turn control over to a higher power. Make amends to those who have wronged.

In the world of Ice Cream Man, though, those steps get twisted into something far darker and less hopeful. Commune with the dead. Relapse. Build a wall around your mind and never, ever look over. Such is life at the Cassandra Rehabilitation & Detox Center, where central character Doug is trying to recover from his addiction to – well just about everything.

Writer W. Maxwell Prince paints a typically grim picture of the road to rehab, reminding readers that the 12 steps only work for 5 to 10 percent of people – an assertion that is backed by science. Prince structures the tale where roughly each page represents a day in Doug’s 28-day journey to recovery – or what passes for it. It includes group therapy, withdrawal symptoms, a relapse and an early suicide attempt. They are handled in bite-size chunks, which is about enough readers can take before their own depression sets in.

Artists Martin Morazzo and Chris O’Halloran chillingly bring the horrors of recovery to life in the issue – the vomiting, the haunting from monsters and dead relatives, even a mysterious shadow man who is the cause of Doug’s relapse. Their most striking contributions to the story are the simple drawings Doug’s daughter makes of her father. Those childlike drawings replace the real Doug as he is talking to his wife about the feeling that he is not always himself. It’s a beautiful and insured moment from the creative team.

But no words, no inside panels better illustrate the life-long struggles with drug dependency than Morazzo’s and O’Halloran’s main cover. Inspired by the M.C. Escher lithograph Relativity, commonly known as The Stairs, Doug is seen in several gravity-defying situations holding his 12-step book – trying to find a way up or down or out. It’s a brilliant approach to a cover that perfectly conveys the point of the story. No words are necessary.

This story feels more personal than most of the tales in this anthology series. The scriptwriter seems to confirm that by naming one of the characters Prince. If that’s the case, hopefully the worst of his struggles are behind him and he has found peace – whether through the 12 steps or something more effective.

Ice Cream Man #32 will be available for purchase on September 21, 2022.

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