New apocalyptic science fiction burner The Freeze, from writer Dan Wickline and artist Phillip Sevy, posits a world where every human being inexplicably stops moving. Only one man can release them with his touch.
Not all end-of-the-world scenarios happen with a bang. For the creators of The Freeze, the apocalypse kicks off in an unusual way, with seemingly every single person on Earth immobile and suspended in space and time.
“I came up with the idea back when I was a computer programmer sitting in a cube farm,” says co-creator/writer Dan Wickline. “I glanced up to see someone standing very still, and my mind took it from there.”
A similar cube farm greets readers in the first issue of The Freeze, where they encounter Ray—a mild-mannered IT guy thrust into an impossible situation. What makes Ray different? For starters, he isn’t affected by the Freeze—the titular event that leaves the global population incapacitated. He also has the unique ability to “unfreeze” his fellow coworkers, and ostensibly, the rest of the human race. But should he?
“Those are the types of questions that the new society has to ask themselves. Is everyone worth unfreezing? What if they’re terminally ill? What if they’re a killer? Will they benefit the new society or cause problems? Maybe they’ll want to take over. And without knowing why the Freeze happened, they really don’t know if unfreezing people is the right move. Ray doesn’t get an instruction manual. He just finds himself the most powerful person on the planet and has to deal with that.”
In the debut issue of The Freeze, the whys of the event that led to humanity’s predicament are left unexplained. By initially eschewing the origin of humankind’s paralyzing catastrophe, Wickline and co-creator/artist Phillip Sevy follow their protagonist in both the immediate aftermath of the event and during an undefined future period, when readers will encounter a different version of the de facto messiah. In the present tense, Ray concerns himself with his most immediate and basic needs. He doesn’t have time to figure out why the Freeze has occurred or why he has the ability to counteract it.
In the future, Ray consorts with a group of shadowy individuals interested in finding and unfreezing certain people. But readers won’t find out whether or not the group’s—or Ray’s—intentions are benevolent in the first issue.
“‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ I think we’ve all heard that Lord Acton quote many times, but is it true?” Wickline explains. “The Ray we meet the day of the event is a decent man who takes care of his ailing mother, loves his dog, and has a crush on a co-worker. People genuinely like him. He suddenly gets the ability to unfreeze people, and it makes him powerful among the new society.”
The Freeze event is devoid of the kind of fire and brimstone usually reserved for the end of the world. And while the people of the world may have stopped in their tracks, the inertia of daily life has not. All manner of disasters befall the planet in the wake of the Freeze: cars collide, trains derail, and airplanes fall from the sky.
“The challenge to show how things are affected when people can’t move was really fun,” Sevy says. “Each scene outside became, ‘Oh, I need to have cars all over the place and crashed into each other!’ If everyone stopped moving, there would be massive accidents the world over. Can you imagine? Dan gave me specific cues from time to time, but the rest of the issue, I really had to think through how things might be affected by the Freeze.”
In addition to vehicular carnage, some other unexpected “aftershocks” challenge Ray during his journey. After unfreezing a pregnant woman, she soon goes into premature labor, her baby still frozen in the womb. This leads to a disturbing and unusual miscarriage. But the core tension in The Freeze doesn’t stem from the carnage of an apocalyptic event—it comes from what happens after.
“[This is] a character-driven series, so the drama and tension come from the characters—not from sprawling action or fight scenes,” Sevy says. “So I’ve really enjoyed trying to design and create real people that have emotions and expressions and body language.”
For all the good ideas in the first issue—and there are many—the story wouldn’t work if not for the creative team’s deft visual and narrative execution, including letterer Troy Peteri’s emotive text. As anyone with experience reading comics will intuitively understand, depicting bodies frozen in time can be quite the challenge, as all bodies in comics are inherently frozen in time. But Wickline and Sevy deploy a simple, yet effective, series of visual cues to highlight the passage time (or the lack thereof).
“Dan was very clear to point out the importance of seeing time pass in the series. That’s something that can be a little tricky in comics because, as [Scott] McCloud eloquently pointed out, the reader gets to control the passage of time in comics as they put images in panels together. So to try and control that a bit, I decided to format everything with nine-panel grids, as it restricted the information in each panel to an equal, measured amount. Dan’s suggestion of showing clocks was a great way to inform each of the moments.”
Those are the types of questions that the new society has to ask themselves. Is everyone worth unfreezing? What if they’re terminally ill? What if they’re a killer? Will they benefit the new society or cause problems?
Surviving the end of the world puts a considerable amount of pressure on the characters in The Freeze. But make no mistake, the creators themselves face their own unique pressures.
“Doing your own property allows you the ultimate creative freedom but no safety net,” Wickline says. “Phil and I get to decide almost everything on this book, from character ethnicity to the number of panels on a page. But the book doesn’t have decades of history or an existing fan base that will be looking for it. The boom-or-bust factor plays a big part of creator-owned publishing.”
“The pressures and fun of each are almost opposite," Sevy adds. “For established series, you’re wanting to meet existing audience expectations (or exceed them). For creator-owned books, you’re trying to find the right audience and hope they enjoy it. The freedom to dictate how things look and what happens is exciting, but is also done not quite knowing how it’ll land or be received. In the end, however, telling a great story is telling a great story. No matter who owns the property, you want to do your best work.”