The Freeze – Are High Concept Stories a Good Thing?
High concept stories. They can be the best thing your brain can consume, or they can be the worst thing you’ve ever laid your eyes upon. There is rarely a compromise between the two, it is an “either or” kind of situation. Once the high concept has been created, the only way to make it justice is by pushing the pedal so hard that it breaks the metal and goes through the entire Earth in order to land on the opposite side of the planet. Or else, you are just wasting talent.
On its first issue, The Freeze wholeheartedly embraced the insanity of its high concept. “Everyone on Earth has been frozen and only this one office worker has the power to bring people back to life”. There were SWAT teams, crashed airplanes consuming entire neighborhoods with fire and debris, still-born babies that may or may not be dead, evil corporate moguls teaming up with questionably moral doctors, frozen folk toppled over on the ground in hilarious nonchalant poses. It had it all, it was beautiful. The high concept was great, the beginning of the story was top notch, and how the situation was tackled forced us to ask so many questions about the impact of the freeze. But, perhaps most importantly, The Freeze made a shame out of M. Night Shyamalan and his high concepts.
But where there is an M. Night Shyamalan story there is an M. Night Shyamalan twist. Raise of hands, who else feared this story would wound up being about religion and how easy fear-mongering people are manipulated?
Continuing the Tension
After a promising and tense start, where every single panel and its myriad of details added up to the tension of a world sans moving people, the framing device of “Non-descript woman who could be either 30 or 15 years-old that knows as much of the situation as the audience” asks Ray to speed up his story so she can understand all of the why’s and how’s planted on the previous issue RIGHT NOW!. Ray, always the crowd-pleaser, agrees. Enter a one-page backstory dump consisting of about 300 words where “show, don’t tell” becomes “sort of imply, don’t really tell”.
We go from “we are about seven people who must decide the fate of the entire world” to “we created a 200-people commune in six months” in the space of three panels. Did we struggle finding them? Were there anxious moments where the characters fought amongst themselves to unfreeze a friend or relative for personal reasons? Was the person they were looking for in the middle of having a cardiac arrest and there was a debate pertaining to “is it worth it to unfreeze someone destined to die”? Is this same thing happening in Sri Lanka as we speak? And is there a Russina Ray doing the same thing in Europe? I don’t know. And, apparently, we must not care.
Well, there goes one of the most interesting aspects of the story.
This backstory dump is swiftly followed by the revelation that a bunch of members of this commune believe the one white-collar dude with the perpetual “I don’t know, what do you think” expression pinned to his face to be a god. Or a messenger of God, depending who you ask.
Ah, the good old “society crumbles in stupid ways when there are fewer people alive” situation.
I, for one, am not a fan of high concept stories where the vast majority of the population is represented as easily manipulated weaklings or stupid folks that have forgotten how thinking works. It is but a sci-fi trope that, despite understanding what it means and its purpose, has been done to dead. And rarely well, to boot. Even highly regarded stories, such as The Walking Dead have tipped their toes into the “I bet people would become even more violent and stupid if the apocalypse were to happen” pool. And, wasn’t season two of its TV adaptation the one fans love the most because of this?
“Someone did a crime.”
“We should kill them! They’re dangerous!”
“But wouldn’t that make us worse than them?”
“Wouldn’t leaving them alive mean more danger?”
“They were friend! Friend don’t kill friend!”
“If they’re a prisoner, they would just be using up our resources without contributing!”
Fortunately, after a couple pages of this by-the-dots incursion in “the genre restrictions forced us to write this part”, the story, once again becomes about the unfrozen people trying to grasp how to deal with the whole situation, how to survive, how to make their world a better place with what they have. And, best of all, how they actually relate to each other as a society.
After a very weak first half, the second issue of The Freeze remembers it can be good and delivers most of the things that made the first one so compelling. The team behind this story might have loosen their grip on the pedal for a few pages there, but they quickly remember all of the exciting possibilities their own high concept allows them to do. People become people again, the intrigue and character development are ramped up, and, best of all, Ray goes from almost becoming the Ted Mosby that tells things to an audience to the Ted Mosby that actually does things in his own story.
Finally, while not my favorite art style, Phillip Sevy’s artwork helps sell the story visually. The camera angles and expressions he chose for this issue are excellent. Especially on that last panel, where every sin this issue might have committed can be forgiven with this issue’s plot twist. With that one image, and its implications, I forgot every grievance of the first half in order to make space on my mind for the following statements:
“I did not see that coming” and “what happens now?”.
And that is a win in my book.
You can read The Freeze #2 both individually or as part as the newly released The Freeze Vol. 1, available on Comixology.