If it weren’t for the fact that we already know Stillwater is a three-part series, issue #1 could stand as a creepy one and done horror story. As it is, it works as a solid introduction that feels a little bit long in the tooth in some areas. Also, the solicit for the book kind of spoils the twist. Still, we do get to know the two main characters pretty well and get a good feel for their personalities, although (spoiler) it doesn’t seem like one of them will be hanging around for too long, so it’s unclear how much of this table setting will turn out to have been necessary.
Regardless, the extra page count for this first issue does help with the pacing, allowing for longer sequences of the two characters sitting in awkward silences and exchanging loaded comments. Chip Zdarsky’s script is well written and packed with subtle character development. We learn a lot about Daniel and Tom through the way they handle each other. Daniel doesn’t seem to have the best head on his shoulders, and is prone to violence, which should prove to be an interesting wrinkle in a town where nobody dies.
One of the things that helps the reader ease into the plot is the fact that not even the protagonist buys into the circumstances under which the story is set in motion. Receiving an inheritance from a relative you’ve never met is the kickoff to many a classic horror tale, so thankfully the trope is embraced and somewhat lampshaded in this first chapter. It helps to make the lead character at least slightly more relatable, although neither of our main characters in this first issue are very likable.
The last third of the issue is where things go full Twilight Zone, which goes a long way toward justifying the slow burn of the rest of the book. It’s terrifying how mundane this event is for the people in the town, when for Daniel it’s the worst thing he’s ever seen. There’s a dreamlike quality to this book’s final pages, feeling like one of those nightmares where you can’t find the exit, no matter how hard you search.
The artwork of Ramón K Pérez and Mike Spicer sells a lot of the dread in the early parts of the book, even before things descend into full-on horror. The characters are all very expressive without coming off as cartoonish. It gives everything a very heightened feel, particularly during the tense sequences toward the end. The town feels idyllic, with the backgrounds being slightly simple, just the way the characters feel about it when they roll into town. As things get more intense, the colors also seem to become more vibrant, more in your face. The line work takes on more of a ragged feel, too, almost like Daniel isn’t sure that he’s really seeing this. The imagery becomes more disoriented along with the characters.
The final pages are made up of some fantastic wide panels, giving it more of a cinematic feel, and the color of the fire infects the rest of the page with a sickly red smokiness. Every aspect of this book is dead set on creating a specific mood, and I think that it absolutely succeeds in that regard. Now that the tone has been established and the plot has been set in motion, the next issue should be even more of a treat.