Daniel Clowes, author of the comic novels Ghost World, David Boring, and the new Ice Haven, suffers from a peculiar jinx also belonging to the Japanese author Haruki Murakami. The first Daniel Clowes work that you read will likely blow you away: His alienated characters, workman-like drawings, and clipped, cryptic dialogue all conspire to create an emotionally distant biosphere, where the banality of daily, unenlightened life is punctuated by small mysteries and sexy heroines. The side effect of visiting Clowes' intellectual comic universe is that after the first trip, each subsequent read will come off as a slightly lesser version of your original experience.
Ice Haven is named for the sedated, once-popular town where the story is set, and the book's crochet of intertwined narratives revolve loosely around the Leopold and Loeb murder of 1920s Chicago. Ice Haven is a quintessential Clowes creation--a revolving cast of characters move about in private despair while an odd child, David Goldberg, has been kidnapped. There's our narrator, Random Wilder, a nervous, perspiring failed poet; Vida, the teenage zinester across the street; Charles, a deeply philosophical grade-schooler who speaks in Hamlet-worthy monologues; teenage Violet who pines away for her distant boyfriend; a husband/wife detective team whose relationship appears to have ended years ago; and even a comic book critic to provide some self-reflective, postmodern guidance and critique along the way. Clowes cuts back and forth between these characters (and a few others), exploring their personal angst with episodic and stylistic variations.
Clowes' artwork is as strong as ever (though not necessarily stronger than ever), and Ice Haven has his best book design to date. His use of faded, aging colors (almost every tone has a slight brown tint) imbues the book with an air of history and nostalgia. Each four-page episode is slightly differentiated by Clowes' drawing style, which provides hopping variation within the narrative. Unfortunately, his lack of variation in emotional tones and dialogue makes it feel like Clowes is simply repeating himself with Ice Haven, and rather than getting a bold new work, readers are being treated to a warmed-up version of a once-delicious dish.