Hannah's life imploded the day her father failed to return from the secretive Smith-Petersen Research Station in Antarctica. Alone and on the street she's at her lowest ebb when a friend offers help. Retrained as an engineer Hannah secures a job at the same Antarctic station to search for her father and stumbles headfirst into a conspiracy that threatens everything she's ever believed.
A key part of every story is knowing when to begin. A story that starts too early is basically filling dead space prior to the beginning of primary events. This is a problem with Antarctica #1 which starts at the very beginning of Hannah’s story but tells us precious little about Hannah.
Antarctica #1 tracks Hannah in the years following her father’s disappearance. Hannah’s father went on long and secret tours (going where and doing what is not revealed). After his disappearance, Hannah’s life spirals downward. She considered suicide. She becomes homeless. Eventually Hannah meets a coffee shop owner named Jim. He lets her use his restroom to clean up. He gets her some extra clothes from a thrift shop. Eventually he convinces her to get career training, and when Jim dies, his memory pushes her to improve to the point of trying to find her father, lost in Antarctica.
Antarctica #1 is almost entirely backstory. Hannah narrates her life, seen by us in a combination of vignettes and montages, leading up to the final pages when the comic takes a hard left turn. But for all the space devoted to Hannah’s life, we learn precious little about her. Her life went downhill when her father vanished, but was there any particular reason why? How old was she? Did she not have other family? This information may come later in the series. But since Hannah’s father’s absence is the catalyst for everything that comes afterward, this is critical information. For the needs of the story, Hannah’s life seems to only have three moments of consequence–when her father doesn’t come home, when her friend Jim convinces her to take a training course, and when Jim dies.
Once the plot kicks in in the final pages, there is a sudden burst of foreboding. The issue turns on a dime when it becomes clear that Hannah intends to go to work in Antarctica. The series of three pages where she goes from studying in a library to arriving in Antarctica go quickly. The repeated and obvious placement of the logo for British Antarctic Research (a logo which was visible but much less obvious on Hannah’s father’s sleeve in the beginning of the issue) casts an ominous shadow over the last few pages. These last scenes are where Antarctica #1 is most effective.
Antarctica #1’s greater selling point is the art. Hannah and Jim are both expressive and full of personality in every panel. Where Hannah’s narration doesn’t necessarily invite a connection to the character, her visual depiction does. There is a scene in the restroom at Jim’s coffee shop where Hannah is freshening up. Jim has purchased some new clothes for Hannah at a thrift store. Hannah’s response to Jim is somewhat gruff, but inside the bathroom, after Hannah takes the bag, there is a panel of her against the door tearing up. Hannah is more vulnerable in that one image than the entire rest of the comic, and it sells the emotional connection to Jim in a way none of the writing does.
Further selling us on how Jim’s death could motivate Hannah is a four horizontal panel sequence where Hannah, sitting motionless, watches Jim’s body being loaded and the ambulance driving away. It’s a kind of closure that Hannah never received for her father, and it provides a visual contrast with the page that saw Hannah’s father disappear. In that instance, five horizontal panels showed Hannah at various ages running out to meet her father who was standing in the same place until, with the fifth panel, her father was simply not there. Here Jim meets a concrete end, and Hannah literally watches his body taken away. Hannah gets closure that she didn’t get with her father. As the moment in the bathroom sold Hannah’s connection to Jim, this moment sells Hannah’s choice to redouble her efforts to educate herself and search for father.
Coloring throughout this issue has a very real world feel. It’s very unobtrusive for most of the issue. But it also creates a distinct mood in the sequence where Hannah finds Jim dead. It’s a rainy night, both as Hannah arrives at the shop and later as Hannah watches Jim’s body get taken away. The rain filled panels have almost murky, washed out colors, and they cast a pall over the scene–the art brings with it the melancholy feelings not uncommon to dark, rainy nights.
Antarctica #1 starts at Hannah’s formative moment but then doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself before the final pages and the twist ending. It spends a lot of time with a character that it tells us very little about. The art helps flesh Hannah out considerably. But in the end, the events of the last few pages, rather than the time spent with Hannah, are what make Antarctica #2 appealing.
Antarctica #1: A Thin Introduction
- Writing - 7.5/107.5/10
- Storyline - 8/108/10
- Art - 9/109/10
- Color - 9/109/10
- Cover Art - 9.5/109.5/10
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