Despite seeming like polar opposites on first glance, horror and comedy actually have a lot in common — both are about placing characters in absurd and extreme situations. Storytellers like Jordan Peele have made that transition from comedy to horror, whilst others like Sam Raimi have blurred the line between the two, as seen in The Evil Dead. If you’ve know Chip Zdarsky through his work or even his social media presence, he is known for his brand of comedy, and yet recently, like in his ongoing Daredevil run, there is a dramatic and compelling side to his writing. So, where does Stillwater lie in the Zdarsky spectrum?
Due to his social difficulties, Daniel West has been let go from his job. After receiving a letter stating that he will receive an undisclosed sum from the estate of his great-great aunt, Daniel makes a trip to the town of Stillwater, accompanied by his more successful friend, Tony. Upon arrival, the two men stumble into the town’s secret: its citizens are seemingly frozen in time and unable to age. Instead of being a miracle, it ends up having huge repercussions for him and Tony, and the realization that immortality is actually a curse.
Following the slow-burn of establishing our broken protagonist, we get into the Twilight Zone-like premise, which is a humble small town that is revealed to have a dark agenda. Zdarsky is keeping how the town causes immortality a mystery, but there is an exploration of using this supernatural gift as a power-play, as the main antagonist “The Judge” is the highest authority that can imprison anyone or worse if the town’s secret is out. Thus, Stillwater becomes a dystopia.
Despite its strong premise, and enough backstory that gives context to Daniel’s current situation, the comic takes its time to get going. This six-issue volume meanders along and doesn’t know how to use every established character, most notably Galen, the young boy who takes advantage of his immortality and gets exposed by Daniel. Although it does suggest that Galen may have other plans and there’s a fun sequence in how he deconstructs a person’s personality – reminding you of Zdarsky’s wicked sense of humor – it’s hard to say where Zdarsky is going, especially that this volume concludes on a literally exploding cliffhanger.
Leaning more into a horror direction compared to his other works, Stillwater’s initial two issues have sequences that showcase how scary a small town and its inhabitants can be, but the comic eventually forgets about being a horror and becomes a very wordy thriller about power struggles. Despite some of the problems from a writing standpoint, artist Ramon K. Pérez gives the whole a book a visual consistency as characters from all corners are very expressive, whilst colorist Mike Spicer uses bold coloring to punctuate certain sequences of intensity.
Stillwater has strong art and a great premise, but these six issues go off on strange tangents. While the tangents are interesting, where it all leads to is the big question.
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