Every issue of ‘Stillwater’ brings something entirely new or unexpected to the table that keeps the readers guessing while wonderfully fleshing out this science fiction and horror-tinged world. There is a perceived heaviness that permeates every piece of this book in the best way, keeping the reader firmly engaged from start to finish.
It’s said quite often that children are the future. This is a phrase that is factual in the sense that they are literally the ones who will live and build what comes next but is also often used in a hopeful sense that the kids will do a better job when it’s their turn to lead and control things. Sometimes though, the future that the children bring to bear is the same as the one wrought by their forebearers or potentially a whole lot worse.
The future is now in the timeless town of Stillwater.
We’re ten issues into the science-fiction horror series from Chip Zdarsky, Ramón K. Perez, Mike Spicer, and Rus Wooton and one constant is that it keeps readers on the edge of their seats as nothing is what it seems and things have changed quite rapidly.
The young man known as Galen has been present from the first issue, but here we begin to see a lot more about who he is and what he wants, and how involved he’s been in the story so far. The forever adults still ignoring those who are stuck as children, both in the sense of the suffering those people are going through but also overall, allowing one of them to be able to engineer this entire event that has led to the downfall of the current regime is a beautiful brilliant but scary move.
Truly one of the moments that really brought an “Ohhhh!” when reading was taking the seemingly innocuous moment from the first issue that was quickly forgotten (the inciting incident that brought Daniel into the know of Stillwater) and making it one of the biggest foundational stones to everything we’ve read. This is something Zdarsky does so well in other works, yet it still catches me off guard at times because it’s just so well done.
Zdarsky’s character work is top-notch as always, put on display with these alternating issues that give us deeper insight into various characters and how the world of Stillwater came to be the way it is. While there are various characters that make some horrendous or terrible choices, some of them showcasing horrid character traits, there is enough with each one to somewhat even a tiny bit understand how eternal life and power would bring them to this point.
There are some really stark moments in this issue that flirt with some of the events happening in real life, especially surrounding the use of fear and authoritarian and less democratic routes. The terrifying truth of just what some people will accept happening if it means some sense of stability and a bit more freedom. This series makes sure that it’s not forgotten that the true horror isn’t the long life or whatever caused it, but always is humanity itself.
Those dashes of bleak realism peppered through the series are highlighted by the continued fantastic work of Perez and Spicer, who reflect that bleakness and darkness within their work. Perez’s artwork features every emotion, every bit of darkness, every brutal moment, and even the amount of weariness clearly upon the faces and metaphorical shoulders of many of the characters. There is a lot of detail put into every panel including great background stuff, but more often than not many panels are sans background elements that just perfectly narrows one’s focus to the characters and the moment on display.
These are heavy topics within these pages, and there is a perceived weight to the art that makes you feel that heaviness on every single page. While they are in a wide-open small town, it feels suffocating and terrifying all the same.
There are comics of various genres that benefit from a brighter and more poppy color palette, but Spicer brings the darker and more dull tones here befitting the nature of this series. The way this series has handled flashbacks with the sort of yellow tinge to them is really great. It clearly indicates the pages are the past, along with the year indicators that Wooton handles, and keeps them tonally the same but different from the present-day pages.
Speaking of Wooton, the lettering he provides is another great element that completes the whole package. There is a lot of dialogue in this issue, as there is a lot going on, and he makes sure that even in panels with closeups or a lot going on, it all fits without being overbearing. Word balloons with a ton of words have their place in comics, but making things more bite-sized and spread out as is done here is generally an approach that works for more people.
The journal-like style of the thought captions for Daniel later in the issue is really great, as it’s a nice way to showcase a character’s thoughts and feelings in a way that resonates with many readers.
Throughout the series, the use of SFX has been mostly sparse at times, mostly used in cases that will bring the biggest impact. Within this issue, we might have gotten the most impactful and shocking of uses. The events of the very final page, and the repetition of one SFX from various perspectives is just top-notch and chilling in a way. Allowing the one word to take up a giant chunk of the background real estate in one panel allows it to really truly tower over everything because the moment is just that important.
It’s very much a ‘nothing will ever be the same again’ moment. That might be saying a lot for a book that is only ten issues old, but every issue has proven this is a forever changing and shifting world. What comes next is anyone’s guess.
Stillwater #10 is now on sale in print and digitally from Image Comics.