“Beautiful things, upon inspection, often reveal themselves to be ugly.”
Ice Cream Man’s journey through genre is coming to an end. “Hopscotch Mélange” has skipped through universes over the past four issues set in the distant past as a western, the recent past as a telenovela, the present as reality TV, and the future as a sci-fi space drama. Each time Rick has spun and twisted these genres into his own personal playthings for mischief, horror, and destruction. Expertly constructed by W. Maxwell Prince, Martín Morazzo, Chris O’Halloran, and Good Old Neon, Ice Cream Man #12 brings a satisfying conclusion to a short arc cleverly manipulating genre. As Rick and Caleb’s cat and mouse game takes us from universe to universe across time and space, we learn just how powerful ideas can really be. It’s why once you hear that little jingle, you can’t get the ice cream man out of your head.
“Space Story” is a playful manipulation of your favorite sci-fi series with the imagery, drama, and thrill to match. Despite this universe only existing for one issue, it is impeccably crafted and fleshed out to the last detail. The technology in particular stands out as an element brought beyond the panels and used to comment on our world by this creative team. Small details such as the universe existing “sooner than we’d like to admit” or the playful eProfiles and sub-feelings do more for the universe than the void of space could ever do on its own. The fun and self-referential sub-classes show how well the team understands the complexities of human emotion and our fascinations with updating it for others every three seconds. People may pick up this book for a fun take on horror, but its cleverness and ability to understand deeply rooted fears, ticks, and insecurities of the human psyche cannot be understated. The book is able to get inside your head in ways that few can, just like that jingle.
This issue begins with glimmers of hope. Despite being the last human left, Noah Smith carries all of earth with him in the form of photos stored in a MegaHardDrive. It’s not all that clear whether or not a “Purple Mountain Majesty” has genetic material that can be stored in an image, but the hope shines through. While the issue used the panels to portray television screens, this issue is a lot more action-oriented. The gray and red hues from the cockpit, and white, sterile environment of the ship display a tone that feels much more empty, and as we learn more about what happened to humanity, the emptiness begins to ring true. There also also a lot of wide, horizontal panel overlays that make the issue more dynamic and suspenseful than the others in this arc while also capturing the zero gravity in space. Humanity f----d up. The issue lists at least 1600 reasons why humanity was responsible for the end of Earth, and does so through the unforgiving on-board computer. All of the profiles, subclasses, and i-Miss sequences only further flush out the feelings of loss and aimless wandering that Noah Smith experiences in space. You would think that his hope would be replenished when he crashed on a seemingly habitable planet or found what appeared to be another human being, but you would be wrong.
When Noah Smith crashes, he lands on an “errant moon;” a place that’s innately wrong and strays from Captain Smith’s proper course. Despite feeling hopeful for the first time in awhile after learning that there may be another human on this moon, the book around him floods with a sense of dread. The book almost completely shifts to grayscale, making it seem as though all of the color has drained from the planet and is slowly draining from the ship as well. While Captain Smith thinks he’s about to enjoy the premise of being reunited with another human, the reader knows better. The reader sees the color draining around him and realize that hope, in fact, has almost been eliminated by landing on this planet. It creates an inexplicable and looming sense of doom without actually saying any words.
What follows is the core theme of “Hopscotch Mélange.” Besides displaying a beautiful manipulation of genre through it’s four unique issues, this arc also revolves around the idea that the seemingly beautiful can actually be quite the opposite. A bold adventure through the western landscape of a distant universe turns tragic as we learn that the rules of greater beings may have been thrown out the window. A beautiful story of young love in the early twentieth century slowly decays to reveal murderous truths behind love, lust, and romance. A fun and humorous glimpse into the world of reality TV quickly turns into a horrific decomposition of discomfort and the human psyche. Here in Ice Cream Man #12, a hopeful journey through space is interrupted to reveal humanity’s innate and inevitable hopelessness. As Captain Smith walks towards the beautiful, rainbow colored flowers, he’s slowly faced with the ugliness before the last drop of hope begins to fade. When he looks at the man coming towards him and the picture of his family before his very eyes and decides it’s a hallucination, that’s when it all ends.
Eventually, Captain Smith reached the end of the road, the finale to every universe, and the primary message of the issue and the arc presents itself. Rick, the ice cream man himself, represents the true destructive capabilities of a single idea. Rick is an idea and a twisted component of every one of our minds. Caleb always has to catch up because the rational, hopeful, and decent part of our brains so easily give way to the irrational, negative, and grotesque portions that often feel overwhelming. Like the jingle that gets stuck in your head, Rick and the power of hopelessness, negativity, and destruction is just as infectious. An idea can only be defeated by a more powerful idea and lately, in this and previous issues, the power of negative self-talk has been unmatched. Even as Captain Smith tries to escape, it’s too late. The infection has already spread and his negative thoughts get so loud that Rick’s power is overwhelming. The more Noah Smith tries to escape, the worse his fate becomes until he reaches a tragic end once B0b, the navigator robot, removes his brain. There’s a dark humorous note to the images as B0b returns to Rick’s side covered in what looks more like chocolate ice cream than blood. As the negative thoughts win yet again, the reader can only take solace in Caleb’s presence as he looks up and says, “On to the next one, Rick.”
Ice Cream Man makes use of different genres, story telling styles, narratives, and structures to tell a completely individual stories. It makes full use of the concept of a loosely connected anthology in order to demonstrate the power of ideas. It knows where, when and how to strike in subtle ways that will cut deep and leave profound marks on the reader. While containing gruesome moments, the story itself depends more on its cleverness and ability to surprise readers with meaning behind the death and gore. Four times not we’ve seen the end of the road. The only question now is if we’ll ever like what we see. We’ll just have to keep buying the issues to find out.