Ice

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Warning: this comic contains nudity, violence, and situations some readers may find objectionable. Reader discretion is advised.

Have you ever said anything you regretted afterward? Something you can never take back? I suspect we all have these moments that define a moment of our life and colors everything after that moment. It doesn’t matter if the friendship or relationship heals after that. Those words were spoken. The actions are done. It remains a part of the past, poisoning the waters and tainting the future.

It takes a moment of tremendous forgiveness to overcome that moment. Even then with forgiveness that moment remains. There is no erasing it. There is no real forgetting of it… years later it will appear again, rippling again and again. And there’s no telling when such a moment will happen, inflamed by emotion and passion. It can be to a child, a sibling, a loved one. And when unforgiven, it can forever ruin friendships and relationships.

I’ve had such moments. I’ve moments… words my parents said that I remember to this day, that I harbor in my heart. I came close to just stepping out of their lives forever. I didn’t want to forgive the words spoken. I didn’t want to bend. I was the one wronged! And yet… finally I forgave and stepped beyond the moment. Yet it’s still a part of me.

Not everyone is as forgiving. And not all words are as easily forgiven.

I’ve long been a fan of Faith Erin Hicks’s epic comic Ice. Of course, I must admit some puzzlement as to what is truly going on with the villains and the larger deeper story. But even as we swing between stories of child-stealers and stolen technologies there is another story going on here, a more personal one. The story of the woman who calls herself Hunter.

This is no surprise. When Hicks was writing her renowned series Demonology 101, despite the meta-story of Isaac and his quest for power and independence we had the more human story of the high-school girl Raven and her search for her own humanity (a search made more poignant as she was half-demon, though not evil because of that heritage). Indeed, much of D101′s story was about Raven and her own life, even as greater events happened around her.

Likewise Ice is actually about Hunter, even as a greater story unfolds around her.

One thematic element that has reappeared several times happened years before the comic started: Hunter was raped. Some comics have used rape almost trivially, trying to explain away the rape like a sobered-up fratboy finding himself before the police and a sobbing girl. Ice didn’t do that. Indeed, the first hints of the rape were quite subtle. We learned of the rape through second-hand sources (though I must hand it to our two villains of the comic… they do have a twisted sense of honor in finding murder acceptable but rape vile. It gives these two despicable chaps a touch of class).

When Ice left Modern Tales (reminiscent of No Stereotypes leaving MT; Hicks also lost her archives for quite some time when MT suffered their server meltdown and it took forever and a year before it was restored) the comic shifted to greyscale. I’ve heard a few complaints about it, but to be honest I think the greyscale actually fits this comic far better than color ever did. I wish she’d stick with it (as some of the comics are just black-and-white), but greyscale takes about as much time as coloring, and Hicks uses grades of shading and highlights. That takes even longer than the greyscale I did back when I was webcomicking.

Metaphorically, the greyscale also fits what the characters are going through. This isn’t a world of true black-and-white, but one of shades of grey. The two villains who nearly killed Cirr end up showing class and morals. And noble Cirr may indeed be one of the very nobles that have oppressed the common people like Hunter.

Hunter’s sister Mercy believes so at least. Cirr doesn’t exactly refute her comments either. His comments are ambiguous. And even more telling are the words Cirr said to Hunter when drugged up: We left you all in the cold to die. There’s no more fuel. Burned it all. There’s only electricity, and we’ve taken that from you.

Think of that. It’s not that they took the electricity. It’s not that they left the others out in the cold to die. No. It’s “we”. And I half-wonder from the expression on Hunter’s face if she didn’t realize the truth then. Indeed… she may have always known.

What’s most telling though are these words spoken when Cirr asks Mercy what she did to alienate Hunter: I want to see who’s worse: you or me.

And thus begins Mercy’s tale. We go back before Cirr, back when Britain’s democracy finally crumbled and collapsed and all that was left was the Monarchy. Black Maria took control of the country, eliminated rights, eliminated democracy, and instituted a class system with nobles who have the rights and the money… and the rabble who are worthless, sneered down upon and trampled underfoot. Perhaps it was that mentality that led the Queen’s Guard to rape Hunter. But seeing that it happens even in this day and age of democracy, I suspect it was both opportunity and anger over the riots that led to the rape.

The relationship between Hunter and her sister was strained even then. Hunter was joining in the protests at the time against the Queen’s policies and against the destruction of democracy. Mercy tried hard to keep Hunter out of it. She wanted to stay safe, to avoid the violence and anger that was sweeping through the nation. So Hunter and Mercy quarreled, argued over whether it was better to hide and stay safe, or take a stand and try to protect democracy.

In the midst of all this, Mercy realized that she was gay, and turned to her sister for support. And Hunter didn’t accept it. She refused to believe that her sister who had slept with so many guys (in a misguided quest perhaps to deny her homosexuality) was gay. Yet while this wasn’t what caused the falling out between them, it was poison in the well, a muddying of the waters that led to something far worse. For when Hunter was raped… when she finally told Mercy what had happened… Mercy threw Hunter’s own words back in her face. “I don’t believe you.”

Rape is possibly the most devastating thing that can happen to a person. Even surviving the attempt leads a person to question themselves. I know. I was there for one friend who had a friend try to molest her, who assaulted her. And she refused to report him to the authorities. She refused to blame him. She blamed herself. She felt she was responsible. Even though he ended up not raping her… it still hurt her immensely. And I could do nothing for her. I could only listen and try to console her, try to give her advice (advice she refused to listen to because hey, it was her fault and she deserved it in her own eyes).

But perhaps what hurts even more is the betrayal of family turning away, of family saying “you’re lying” rather than accept what happened. In a way, is this not a way of saying “you deserved this”? Is it not casting blame to the one who was raped, in a time when he or she may need support the most?

So Hunter ran away. And in time she found Cirr behind a garbage bin, doped up on drugs, and took him in. And fell in love.

Despite the betrayal of family… Hunter turned to Mercy to save Cirr’s life. She cares enough for Mercy to hate the fact her sister works in a strip club. She cares enough to take interest in the fact Mercy has a girlfriend. And she trusts Mercy enough to leave her alone with Cirr to take a shower.

Perhaps, in a world without villains and plots, there’d be a chance for Hunter and Mercy to heal, for this small family to get back together. But the wolves are at the door and I suspect that Mercy will not be shown any, that she will fall to these villains even as she tries to protect her sister from those who hunt Hunter.

Still… if Mercy has a chance just once to say “I’m sorry” before whatever end she faces and if Hunter can find it in her heart to forgive her sister for those four dreadful words… then perhaps she can find peace in the hereafter. And maybe, just maybe, they can deny the encroaching darkness and cold.