5 out of 5
Since 1. Ongoing horror comic book series are rare and 2. Good ones even moreso, it is sad that Ice Cream Man – qualifying for both of those – is seemingly gearing up for a conclusion. However, that has bonded our team of writer W. Maxwell Prince, artist Martin Morazzo, colorist Chris O’Halloran, and letterer Good Old Neon over the last few issues in ways that have absolutely produced their most affecting, consistent concoctions since the series began. When it began, there really was nothing else like it, but it’s off-kilter look and everything-is-awful vibe began to riff on itself soon enough; while never producing a bad issue, it could be said that some of ICM became, within context, somewhat predictable. But perhaps the focus of an incoming ending has sharpened everything: Prince’s narratives are more oblique in the most compelling of ways – where the horror is there, but you have room to dig a bit for further meaning; Morazzo’s art is still absolutely recognizable – pinched character models; lots of excellent negative space – but there’s a bit more seriousness to it now where it could pass as a straight comic, whereas before there was always a somewhat humorous undertone to it; and both O’Halloran and Good Old Neon are following suit, their works toned down to complement the writing and art, and not enhance a no-longer-needed kitsch factor. End result for issue #28: another standalone tale of obsession, with etymologist Brian’s singular pursuit of “the first word” leading to terrible, Lovecraftian wonders, that also bookends into some of the ICM lore – a component that definitely got lost in the series’ (if it’s ending soon) mid-section. And that bookend isn’t just a cute wink, but rather underlines the inherent horror of the story. Morazzo’s art is perfect throughout, keeping restraint on his character models and layouts such that, when things are allowed to tip over into the fantastic, they really register; O’Halloran does this by keeping muted flats throughout for his colors, meaning that pop colors truly pop; and Good Old Neon’s layouts allow both the narration and art to shine at all points.
Further bonus points to Prince for making the etymologist vs. entomologist confusion matter; this is a cute thing like Schrodinger’s cat that smart people like to whip out like it’s a new idea when it’s actually pretty tired, but it’s made wholly relevant to the story here.