When a thought lost child returns to his small-town roots, the town’s immortal secret begins to weigh heavier and heavier upon all their heads.
Living forever seems like the type of thing that many would regard as a potential gift, perhaps a gift from a benevolent deity of some kind, but what if instead, it’s actually a curse? That’s the type of question that is both posited and answered within the pages of Image Comics’ horror-tinged series, Stillwater.
The new series, a brainchild of writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Ramon K Perez, featuring the talents of colorist Mike Spicer and letterer Rus Wooton, focuses on a small town called Stillwater where since 1986, all injuries heal, nothing ages and nothing dies. This isn’t a new premise or idea for stories, but the team manages to make it stand out with their choice to frame it as a horror story and a study of human nature. Like much of human history, this gift is polluted and turned into a thing of control as the small-town falls into an authoritarian type of state after cutting off the outside world in order to protect their secret.
Beyond the human control horror, the series focuses heavily on just what the cost of immortality actually could and would be.
All too often though these stories the focus is on adults or teenagers that could pass for adults who become trapped at that age. Stillwater has those adults and what it does to them, but also lays out the idea of what happens to a child stuck physically, but continues to grow/’age’ mentally and emotionally. Imagine being a twenty-year-old in the body of a five-year-old. Simply terrifying.
That’s not even getting into the implications that are presented for what it means for all other living beings within the town.
Within the first six issues collected within this book, there is a lot of information that has to be provided to set up this world, but it never once feels like a ‘lore dump’ as some people tend to call explanatory information. Instead, it allows for the ability to get to know a great number of characters important to the narrative rather quickly, while leaving so many others that are still mysterious for later potential storylines, and fully flesh out this world. Often the best stories are the ones that give you a full stomach stuffing meal but still leave you asking for seconds.
Daniel West, formerly Tommy Quinn, is the point of view into this world as a former member of the town who was smuggled out as a small child. Daniel’s outsider perspective and entry to the town provide the best way to impart the aforementioned information. It also serves as a great way to have someone that can cause a spark within the town to begin to push back at the power structure that has Stillwater in a firm grip. While we’re given a glimpse into who Daniel is as a person and what some of his beginnings were like in the town (and the reasons his mother decided to smuggle him out) there is still a lot that hasn’t been revealed that can be built upon later.
While there is a lot of words to carry the story information-wise, the art is just as sturdy of a pillar in building this world. Stillwater is a fully fleshed-out distinct world, evoking imagery that has often been seen of small towns in the United States, and the emotional and mental states of the characters are clearly seen in every panel. There is a really old-timey sort of feeling to the style of the colors that make up this world, fitting for a town that was practically plucked out of years gone by. It’s not bright and it’s not dull, it’s a nice middle that lends itself to the more horror-like take.
What really stands out is the prominent use of shadows throughout the issues. Overall, it fits the idea that this town has slipped into darkness over time as have many of its people, and also fits with how many dark shadowy secrets that still remain untold. It also pairs well with the more middle-toned style of colors, adding even more atmosphere to them.
A good compliment to the art is the lettering which knows how to rise and fall in prominence when needed for the moment. Whether it’s the more subtle/smaller/intimate type moments or the bigger action-packed moments, the letters sync perfectly and never once pull you out of the overall presentation.
Now is the perfect time to catch up on the series since the next issue isn’t due out till May 19.
Stillwater Volume 1: Rage Rage collects the first six issues of the series and is now on sale from Image Comics in print and digitally.