Stillwater continues to take a deep look at trauma and horror surrounding the all too real actions of humanity while under the fantastical umbrella of forever life. There is an all-encompassing darkness that permeates through the series both in the script but also in the detailed and fantastic artwork.
To many, the idea of living forever, the sort where you stop aging and your health is never a question again, seems like it would be an extraordinary blessing. That might be the case if say you were already a grown adult who gets to keep living in your prime years (whatever that phrase means to one individually). But what if when the effect takes place, you are just a child or even let’s say a toddler or infant?
Doesn’t seem as enticing, does it? That’s where the fantastical horror series Stillwater turns its gaze for the ninth issue of the series.
The Chip Zdarsky series never showed glimpses from the very start about what effect this might have on children who are mentally but not physically aging. This issue though really delves into how this would be horrific in the long run. Stuck forever in a young underdeveloped body, never gaining the potential advantages that come from the natural aging process. A giant mental toll upon young shoulders as you forever are treated as the children of a town despite being someone that is mentally/emotionally in their 30s or 40s.
What this series has done perfectly is showcase horror of a realistic sort. By that what I mean is that while the situation of a town that has stopped ageing and can’t be hurt is fantastical, the way that it’s been handled and what those within choose to do with this power is all too realistically horrific. On the other end seeing this world through the eyes of children that are forever forced to be children is truly one of the most horrific things, alongside the whole dictatorship situation they have going on.
Try to check out the page with the aforementioned forever a baby and not feel utterly horrified at what a situation that would be.
Then in typical Zdarsky fashion, the entire situation is turned on its head and the horror around the children takes on a new facet. There is never a way to really tell where this book is going, which is the best way to be.
All along there has been a dark overtone to the series, with it being a horror book, with shadows expanding with each issue and this one carries that on. Ramón K. Perez and Mike Spicer have done a fantastic job of really upping the dread and horror but also the realism of this series. There is a lot of attacks and injuries and moments that these characters go through and there is more of a weight to them compared to the fights often seen between superpowered characters in other comics.
It’s gruesome and scary and so literally and metaphorically dark. There is a muted tone to the color palate that Spicer has been using which adds to the realism but also fits the fact that much of this book has been taking place at night through the first two arcs. Rather than bright poppy colors, it’s exactly how things look in tone when you are in the low lights of the night surrounded by shadows and darkness.
There is a lot of great detail in the pencils, but there is also a lot of great panel space usage as white space breaks up many of the panels. Part of that white space usage has a white space border alternating down the right or the left of pages while the panels stretch all the way to whichever edge isn’t the white border. It’s really nicely done and really makes the pages stand out from the ‘standard’ style.
Perez also throws in a lot of really powerful closeup shots. Eyes are a window to the soul they say and there are some really great close-up shots of eyes and faces that give away so much emotion and feeling without words needing to be said.
All the things being said though are brought to life by Rus Wooten who always finds a way to make it all work even in the close-up shots where free space real estate is low. There is a lot of tension in this arc, which tends to happen when a military-style coup happens after a bombing, and this is showcased wonderfully with Wooten’s use of bolds and shifting font sizes. These characters are poking and yelling at each other as everything is falling apart around them. It also correctly puts emphasis on the things that are being said, hitting home the emotion behind these words. Everyone has their reasons for feeling the way they do, no matter if those reasons are right or wrong.
SFX are sparse here because much of the issue is talking and simple action, but when they do happen, they are used effectively to ratchet up the tension and action.
Stillwater #9 is now on sale in print and digitally from Image Comics.