‘Stillwater’ draws ever closer to its upcoming conclusion as various elements previously left unsaid are beginning to make themselves known, and the continued small town/horror vibes grow more and more by the issue. What this team has created in this series is not just a fantastic gorgeous supernatural horror story, it is very much a human experience horror story as we witness the various levels of what humans can and will do at any given time. Eternal life and what humans are willing to do or not do to see that continue to be a reality is equally intriguing and terrifying.
With only a handful of issues left within the realm of small town meets eternal horror, Stillwater continues to pull no punches as everything begins to unravel and the truth is set to emerge.
Out of all the characters, the biggest evolution most definitely would be within the protagonist Daniel who went from a hothead living a fast life out in the world to a reluctant revolutionary to a man who now uses words as his weapon of choice. One of the things that have come of this series is the exploration of the horror that comes from a variety of situations. There is the horror of living forever, a static life, as well as the different type of dictatorship like power that can grow to protect this gift/curse. With the judge, we got the old-school type of control where everything was kept tightly packed into Stillwater, while Galen represents the type of dictator that is never content unless they are growing their power and control.
Here though Chip Zdarsky brings in a fear that somewhat centers around the type of power and control that can come from organized religion in some people’s hands. Daniel and his companions have returned to Stillwater/Coldwater, and he’s using words about God and religion to try and convince people that leaving Stillwater/Coldwater and returning to a fluid moving life is the best situation. What is scary is how Daniel is using it as a tool but also is starting to fall into a space where he believes his own messiah sort of status that had been bestowed upon him when he returned from being burned alive.
At the same time that Galen’s control is slipping and Daniel’s is maybe growing, causing them to butt heads and make moves against one another again, we’re confronted once again by a game changer of a revelation. All this time the gift/curse has been pretty much giving a level playing field to all the parties involved, but there is a disruption in the system. What I love is that we’re given the news that the cause of Stillwater’s so-called miracle was not only right there in the open this whole time, it was in the form of someone we have already met. Hidden in plain sight sort of big reveals are the type that I just eat up happily.
This being a horror story in so many ways, there are vibes that need to be clear in all areas. Artistically Ramón K Perez and Mike Spicer have hit every single necessary element necessary to keep the book feeling eerie and horrific no matter what is going on within a given page. Just look at the pages where Daniel, Laura, and Tanya are in the church going on about being the three and all. Sure, the outside is bright and sunny, but there are ominous shadows and weighty darkness surrounding them at all times.
This and so many other scenes are framed in a way where we feel the horror and the terrifying nature of what is going on. Coldwater is a town under siege, Galen is a man in a boy’s body that is terrifying in every sense of the word, and the growing sense of the impending bubble burst that is this gift/curse can be felt everywhere. I always dig how Perez is able to mix the “idyllic” small-town vibe and horror so perfectly, both supernatural and human horror, so perfectly. It’s helped by the fact that small towns of this sort just come bursting with horror vibes to those of us not from or used to such places. All enhanced by the spot-on emotional/facial expression work and other choices, like the shot of Galen in shadows that was pretty creepy, that hit all the right notes.
Hitting those colorful tones is something Spicer handles with ease, giving us daylight and night scenes that feel authentic as well as color palettes that move between warm and cold but both with a sort of toned-down style. As noted above that mix of idyllic and horrifying is key to this story, and the shadows and friendly warm colors that are mixed throughout the story are part of that vibe.
Matching that vibe all around is the work that Rus Wooten does with the lettering of every issue, adding little bits to the dialogue or captions that can move between the various necessary tones. We can see the emotion that is present through the visuals, but thanks to Wooten we feel it more because we can hear it within their words. Some simple changes like shrinking or growing text or changing bubble shapes can amplify whatever we’re supposed to be feeling from these characters. Volume and tone are something very important in real life in communication, and Wooten follows that notion with the lettering as those elements are clear on the page every time.
Stillwater #15 is now available from Image Comics.