by Angela Cainen

Small town secrets. Big comicbook drama.

Stilwater Vol. 1 – Rage, Rage

Chip Zdarsky – creator/writer
Ramón K. Pérez – creator/artist
Mike Spicer – colourist
Rus Wooten – Letterer

There’s an old trope in various types of media about small American towns holding secrets. You’ll be familiar with it. You know the sort, outsiders aren’t welcome for mysterious reasons. There’s something about the town that is different and woe betide any outsiders that come calling. The consequences can be anything from murder to imprisonment, or human sacrifice.

Needless to say Stillwater is indeed one of these towns. It has a secret which means outsiders aren’t welcome. This isn’t great news for young Daniel, summoned to the town by a mysterious letter about the death of a great grandaunt who lived in Stillwater. So he and his friend Tony go to the town to see if perhaps Daniel has been lucky enough to inherit some money (which would be handy as he’s lost his job).

Spoilers: It does not end well.

Although you will be familiar with the basic trope ideas, there is a bit of fresh twist on them in Stillwater which leads to some surprises when you think you know where the story is going. The twists and turns help keep things fresh as the setting for most of the book is just one small town which could quickly become repetitive. This is a town where no-one can die (that’s the secret) and if you think that means the stakes are low then you’d be wrong, because immortality means there’s a lot to play for and several characters are determined to do whatever they must to keep this Eden as it is.

If you’ve read anything by Chip Zdarsky (and you should if you haven’t) you’ll know that he can write a cool, interesting plot and that’s the case here. He’s also good at character work and again that’s true here as well. The characters of this small, strange town come to life in a way that moves them beyond the stereotypes of small town judge, small town deputy, small town doctor.

Central character Daniel is sympathetic. Though it took me awhile to fully warm up to him, which is good as I then got more invested. He’s full of rage, rage some might say but he’s not the only one with festering rage issues in this town. He works well as an outsider to the community discovering the truth with the reader. I want to see more of his experiences in this town.

I always like Ramón K. Pérez’s art and this book is no exception. The characters look real and their expressions betray some of the tensions beneath the surface. There’s also some really nice action scenes and just because no-one dies in the town doesn’t mean there’s no violence. The town itself is well realised and the colouring by Mike Spicer really helps show that this town that has not moved on in over thirty years, a time capsule.

Also special shout out to letterer Rus Wooten who does good work with not just speech bubbles but journal writing lettering too.

This is a horror book and it can get pretty dark. It went to places darker than I expected, but that’s no bad thing. It’s not an overly gory book but if you are a bit squeamish do bear in mind that there’s blood and violence. As someone not so keen on horror generally I did enjoy this book, the setup is interesting and it surprised me in the best ways. I really like the central character and I want to see what’s in store for him. The cliffhanger at the end means I will certainly need to check out more.

It works well in trade and I would certainly say it’s well worth your time if you like small town drama and horror. If you are unfamiliar with this sort of book it’s a pretty good introduction to the genre.

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