The town of Stillwater is teetering at the edge—an explosion has ripped through the courthouse following a tyrannical push against The Welcome Party’s move toward opening the town’s borders (and effectively freeing the townspeople). Our central character, Daniel, dropped from the role of POV character during the chaos, and the whole of Stillwater’s narrative possibilities have opened as a result.
This leads us right into this issue, which veers away from the action of the previous issue completely. I’m sure some readers might find it annoying to leave the scene of the largest spectacle of the series so far, but I think this issue is critical. To fully understand the conflict of Townspeople vs. Delusional Judge, we must fully understand the stakes. Issue #6 gives us a fleeting glimpse of those stakes just before raising them.
We jump into the issue with series antagonist Ted, whose hyper-violent hijinks have been haunting Daniel since the first issue. Stillwater PD’s brute force — Ted also, it seems — performs certain tasks for the Judge. Certain brutal tasks.
Discovering via mail fraud that one citizen’s brother threatens the security of Stillwater’s secret, Ted is dispatched to silence the man. Silence as in murder.
This is treated, by Ted and the Judge, as a somewhat common occurrence, and the ramifications are horrifying. How many of the townspeople have had their loved ones silenced? More pressingly, do they know? These are the stakes presented — the silent murders of distant, innocent parties, whose lone crime is to be concerned for their family and friends.
What’s more, Ted is using this hit as a smokescreen so that he might attend the funeral of a fallen comrade in arms — something he must keep hidden from the Judge for fear of reprisal. It’s here that our stakes are thus raised: Ted’s old sergeant has his suspicions for his old charge’s mysterious life, assuming that he must be a hitman. Which is, honestly, the sort of thing I suspect every time I run into someone from high school.
Through a series of events, the Sarge and members of the squad come to learn the secrets of Stillwater—the town’s big ‘no-no’. What’s more, in the light of the newfound chaos, it appears that Ted has brought in the armed contingent the Judge needs to stifle the insurrection.
Stillwater has its own sense of pacing — the series is not super interested in a mile-a-minute, bombastic action — and I can see that being an issue for some readers. Issue #6, however, promises to shake things up considerably, providing the spark for a much-heightened sense of conflict.
Zdarsky and Pérez have the beginnings of a Stephen King-like town-as-cast world in Stillwater, and the potential for alternating POV can make the series a much deeper, more rewarding experience for people willing to ride along. The mystery behind the immortality of Stillwater seems like only a minor thread in a much larger tapestry waiting to be revealed, and the desire to see that tapestry is a deep, deep motivation to keep reading.
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