Love, Death, And Fire: Reviewing ‘Stillwater’ #12
by Scott Redmond
‘Stillwater’ brings its second arc to a game-changing and emotional climax, as things about the town of eternal life and its inhabitants begin to change. This creative team has created something truly special that delivers with every single issue, leaving you wanting more in the best way possible of this deeply fleshed-out world.
A plethora of stories has been created featuring the idea of immortal life, a concept that our species and our finite lifespan are quite enamored with. From time to time the depictions dip into the idea of extended life, whether it’s from magic or science or the supernatural, being not all, it’s cracked up to be.
Through its first dozen issues, Stillwater has showcased the true horror that comes from eternal life and what it might do to those around you and a community. As this second arc of Chip Zdarsky, Ramón K Perez, Mike Spicer, and Rus Wooten’s series ends, the characters within this world begin to weigh the idea that even death is preferable to remaining within an eternal prison that their town has become.
There are many great science fiction and supernatural elements that permeate Stillwater down to the core, but it’s the characters that command the most attention. Creating compelling characters that resonate with audiences seems like a simple enough thing, but that’s because most of us instantly think about the characters that are already cultural icons. Many of the characters we know, and love today struggled at times to find an audience, others caught on instantly.
Being able to create characters that resonate and command attention and various other emotions within the span of twelve issues is a huge thing. It’s not a requisite per se, as the concept is intriguing and different enough within the realms of horror and eternal life stories to sell itself. Making us care about and want to know more about these characters, the good and the bad, where their fates are of interest and concern is like the big juicy cherry on top of this horrifically delicious sundae. (Now I’m hungry.)
Character work is something Zdarsky excels at, just looking at any of his works will showcase that, and here it’s coming through well. Flashbacks, changing focus and the small bits of time jumps we’ve seen help with this growth in many ways cause despite it only being 12 issues it almost feels like we’ve spent far more time in Stillwater with these people. There was a moment where I wondered if we were set to see a permanent spotlight focus change from the protagonist Daniel at the end of this issue, but then the rug was pulled out for another awesome cliffhanger twist.
Darkness always permeates around the edge of this town, but this issue we saw it go to different depths than the last few. Not only is most of this issue taking place at night, but we get to see some of the actual brutal even horrific violence that comes with a coup attempt. Perez and Spicer have gone down this road in previous issues, but it’s like they just keep upping the ante with every issue because I swear their fantastic work gets more and more fantastic with each issue.
There is a depth and weight to this world, as their work has a heavy realistic detailed aspect to it. Nighttime in most media can often seem too bright because of a desire to make sure things are visible, so darkness isn’t realistic. Not here, where the nights are dark, and the areas are perfectly shadowed when there are only a few light sources around where it feels like true night. That sort of night where you can see things around because of the lights but it also feels dark enough that you could be swallowed up at some point.
It helps that Spicer adds a muted filter over most of the colors on this book to really make them pop but not be overly bright. Again that more realistic sort of look as opposed to a more glossy or bright popping sort of look. This is not to say those other looks are wrong, because they are not and are great too. Different worlds and visions need a different look.
As with real life, it’s not just what people say that can tell you about their emotional state or their personality in comics but in how they say it. Wooten does a really great job with the lettering in that respect, as we get changes to the font or bubbles that mirror aspects of the moment. From smaller font when someone is quieter or whispering, the bigger for louder moments, or little pauses baked in to show uncertainty. These sorts of indicators are often taken for granted yet they’re not always present in different stories, but their presence just elevates and adds that bit more of reality.
Overall, this was a great conclusion to the arc and the ending is definitely one of those great cliffhangers that will leave one thinking, especially since there is a gap till the series resumes the main story (there is an anthology one-shot coming in March with stories of the town though).
Stillwater #12 is now on sale in print and digitally from Image Comics.