Welcome to Irongates, a city of the future that’s closer to being a figurative Hell on Earth. Its skyline is a gluttonous mass of crumbling, smoke-belching towers, and within their walls things happen that would irrevocably damage your psyche if you were to experience them up close. This is a world where lost souls subsist on a daily diet of violence, cruelty, perversion, and vice, and battle valiantly to hold on to their sanity as everything around them threatens to collapse into an unforgiving abyss.
This is A Frozen World, a daring, provocative, and startlingly beautiful crowd-sourced graphic novel written and illustrated by Nick Andors. Andors weaves a quartet of interlocking stories all set within the claustrophobic confines of Irongates, but each containing their share of disturbing visuals, characters you either pity or wouldn’t want to run into on the street late at night, and unique plot twists nearly impossible to see coming.
Love it or hate it, you will not soon forget A Frozen World.
At night every building in Irongates goes into a dusk-till-dawn lockdown to protect their inhabitants from the dangerous criminal activity that increases in numbers and intensity once darkness falls, thus giving the area its name. One of these underprivileged citizens goes out every night in spite of the forced curfew to scavenge for food and other supplies to ensure his continued survival, particularly cigarettes. He finally comes across one of those blessed cancer sticks in the most morbid of circumstances. An aging man works as a sort of garbage man for the city’s never-ending array of decomposing dead. The unclaimed bodies are disposed of in a giant incinerator with no due respect paid for the departed. The man known as Geoffrey has barely spoken a word since the horrifying death of the only woman he ever loved…sixty years ago. Over those six decades he has gone to great lengths to keep her memory alive even if they entailed the kind of loving devotion that only Ed Gein would understand. This story has an interesting hook, a very disturbing middle section, and a surprisingly poignant finale that brought tears to my eyes.
The third story, or “link,” centers around a woman named Anneka who is being held captive by underlings of the most powerful criminal organization in Irongates, one that is ruled by the mysterious Hidden Hand. Her captivity is brought to its violently inevitable conclusion, but Anneka’s story doesn’t end there. In fact, it starts to move backwards through time. This story is one of the darkest to be found in A Frozen World as it is often shocking in its unflinching brutality and deals with polarizing themes of child abuse and drug addiction that are often difficult to convincingly portray in comics, but it has many moments that are purely satisfying on an emotional level. The fourth and final link continues directly from the end of the previous one and brings Andors’ haunting vision of a broken city unable to heal itself despite the best efforts of its finest occupants to an unforgettable close.
This is hardly ideal reading for the young, but at its best A Frozen World reminded me of the most masterful achievements in the history of independent comics. Nick Andors is a bold and brilliant storyteller who brings his four seemingly unrelated stories together to create an epic narrative where hope and goodness may be forbidden virtues inside Irongates but are still kept alive by a select few unafraid and willing to rise above their oppressive surroundings. Having constructed a starkly imaginative futuristic film noir kingdom in the form of Irongates Andors decided to explore the individual lives of its poorest, most unfortunate citizens in lieu of the chases and action heroics that most stories set in dystopian metropolitan nightmares often fold in giving to their readers. A Frozen World does not shy away from the ugliest visuals an average inhabitant of Irongates would likely encounter on a daily basis: dead bodies rotting away on the sidewalks as uncaring pedestrians pass over them with contempt; criminals conducting their business without fear of repercussion from the apparently non-existent authorities; children forced into abusive homes when they would probably be better off living on the streets; and much worse.
Andors not only wrote the “Raymond Carver by way of William Gibson” stories, but he also provided each “link” with some quite distinctive and unnerving black and white artwork that is some of the finest I’ve seen in a graphic novel in ages. He captures the prison atmosphere of Irongates and the sad, hopeless citizens with rich shadows and stunning depth that would have be undone had this had been published in color. With his gifted hands working in tandem with his knack for honest storytelling Andors brings the world of Irongates to violent, unapologetic life in its first few pages and only gets better from there. The stories are overflowing with gutted corpses and full frontal male and female nudity. Like I said, not exactly for the kids. But those among the more adventurous comic readers who take a chance on A Frozen World will be rewarded with an experience unlike any other.
A Frozen World is one of the best graphic novels I have read in years. Nick Andors has proven to be in full command of his artistic mediums with a stunning narrative achievement that immerses the open-minded readers into a world of darkness and slowly guides them to the light. Further proof that comic books deserve to be afforded the same respect as the finest literature, this journey through the hellish landscape of Irongates is one that will stick in the memory long after you finish reading.