'Whiteout': A Classic GN Comes to the Silver Screen

By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service

Sept. 8, 2009 -- Mother Nature is the scariest killer of them all. That’s what I took away from Whiteout, the 1998 miniseries from Oni Press that was collected as a graphic novel in 2001, and is now a movie, premiering Sept. 11.

It’s not that Mama Nature kills any more savagely or brutally or frequently than human beings. We’re actually pretty good at that.

What’s scary about Mother Nature is that she doesn’t care. Like us, she kills savagely and brutally and frequently – but unlike us, it’s with complete indifference. She doesn’t care how smart or pretty or rich or important or clever or busy you are. And she doesn’t negotiate. You get in her way, she’ll roll right over you.

Which is what makes Whiteout such a unique murder mystery. It takes place in Antarctica, which author Greg Rucka reminds us many times is a place where human beings – even insects and bacteria – can’t survive without constant support.

On “the Ice,” temperatures have been known to drop to those of equatorial Mars. Flesh freezes and snaps off in seconds, air turns to ice in your lungs, cells explode from within. During a “whiteout” condition, when 300 mph Katabic winds off the polar plateau whip up thousand-year-old snow, there’s zero visibility, and you can die inches from the warmth and safety of a building you couldn’t see. (What you do see is hallucinations, from hypothermia.) During “winter” the sun never rises for most of six months; from mid-February to mid-October nothing made by man can get in or out. And it’s the highest continent in the world, so toss in altitude sickness.

Like in space, the climate is antagonistic. A second’s carelessness, and you’re dead. Losing a glove or guideline during whiteout is a death sentence.

And in this frozen hell, not long before winter’s cold curtain comes crashing down, U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko is assigned the investigation of the first murder in Antarctica history. Her suspects are a mixed bag of scientists and support personnel from various countries scattered across various bases, all desperate to get out while they can. Complicating matters is that Stetko is in disgrace due to anger-management issues – and is a woman, where during the long winter the male-female ratio is 400 to 1.

Then the bodies start to pile up. What in (the bottom of) the world is happening here?

Rucka’s taut pacing and earthy dialogue keep you frozen in your seat until the end. Steve Lieber’s pencils are top-notch; arty enough to be attractive, but clear enough to tell a clean story. I can and have recommended Whiteout for years as a chocks-out adventure story staged, like Outland or Alien, in an environment so merciless that it is unforgettable. (Full disclosure: I got Lieber’s autograph on my copy of Whiteout at the 2002 San Diego Comic-Con, and I think he is a very nice guy.)

That is, of course, the graphic novel. Whether the movie will live up to that promise is unknown as of this writing. The fact that Whiteout has been in development off and on for seven years, and once had the often comedic Reese Witherspoon attached, is not encouraging.

However, the film stars Kate Beckinsale, who has plenty of dramatic experience and is a cult favorite among genre fans for Van Helsing and the “Underworld” series. We also know that a major character, Lily Sharpe of England’s MI-6, with whom Stetko had a wary and reluctant alliance, has been replaced by Gabriel (The Spirit) Macht as U.N. operative Robert Pryce.

That latter part is interesting for several reasons. One, Rucka has been quoted as saying that he approves of the switch, to increase Stetko’s vulnerability as the only female on the Ice. Two, Sharpe was later spun off into her own series, Queen and Country, and her absence here means those rights are still available for movies or a TV series I’d pay good money to see. Three, it was a little too convenient to have the only two women (both attractive) appear in almost every panel. That flirts with pandering, and I’m glad it’s gone.

But the movie will retain Mother Nature’s wrath, which is the part that gives me a chill. I don’t mean to imply she’s a “virtual character” of any kind, which has become a movie-review cliché. She is simply the environment, one that is omnipresent and deadly.

And that is freaking scary.

Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com.

Views: 237

Comment by ClarkKent_DC on September 11, 2009 at 11:08am
First impressions from Rotten Tomatoes are brutal: a 2% rotten rating -- that is, 1 positive review out of 50.
Comment by Captain Comics on September 11, 2009 at 10:13pm
We saw a commercial for Whiteout the movie, and my wife said, "What is that based on?" And I said, "Whiteout. You read it." She said, "That's what I mean. I remember reading Whiteout. I don't remember reading any of the stuff I just saw."
Comment by Joan Carr on September 12, 2009 at 12:06am
That's what she said!
Comment by Mark Sullivan (Vertiginous Mod) on September 12, 2009 at 1:04pm
That story really seemed perfect for a movie. Sounds like they managed to screw it up, which isn't surprising given Hollywood's track record.
Comment by Captain Comics on September 12, 2009 at 1:37pm
It would make a terrific suspense movie, because it was a terrific suspense book. But it looks, from the trailer, like they tried to turn it into an action movie. The trailer has a plane crash! They trailer has an explosion! There was none of that in Whiteout. So they spent a heap of money turning Whiteout into two things it wasn't originally: 1) an action story, and 2) crap.
Comment by ClarkKent_DC on September 13, 2009 at 12:08am
Second impressions on Rotten Tomatoes are a little better, but not much: 8% rotten or 8 positive reviews out of 77.

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