I had mixed feelings when I reviewed the first volume of Stillwater by Chip Zdarsky and Ramon K. Pérez almost a year ago — Zdarsky’s first dabble into horror wasn’t that scary, given its Twilight Zone-like premise. In recent years, Zdarsky has certainly shown a more dramatic side in his writing with his terrific Daredevil run, and has even stepped up his horror game with his issue on Michael Walsh’s The Silver Coin. With now another six issues out the bag, has Stillwater stepped up its own game?
A lot has happened since outsider Daniel West and his mother Laura tried to overrule the Judge, who has maintained control of the eponymous town where no one can age or die. An explosion demolishes the town hall, setting up a military coup by Ted and his old army buddies, and chaos ensues in the town of Stillwater, where no one knows who is really in control, whilst Daniel and Laura hope to escape.
From the first issue of this volume, we are cutting straight to the chase with a range of characters currently going through hell, whether it is being burnt alive, being imprisoned or in Daniel’s cast, or having a sword fight with one of the former marines where amputations and decapitations can happen. As silly as that last bit sounds, Zdarsky is having a bit fun with the premise whilst maintaining that element of disturbance, which is one of the best aspects of this comic.
Stillwater takes a breather from the main story by doing flashbacks showcasing the backstory of the town and some of its residents; we get to see who Tanya was before becoming the town sheriff. It certainly comes out of nowhere, especially when the main story is revealing new revelations. Although Tanya’s backstory is one of pure tragedy and seeing a more vulnerable side than what we are used to with her is welcome, more interesting is that the story shifts gears into exploring who the main villain is through the increased presence of Galen, the boy who started the central conflict for Daniel and the townspeople.
It’s revealed that Galen has a greater agenda that opens new possibilities and worries about how the town should be handled, which sets up new dilemmas for the main cast. Whilst Daniel and Laura are feeling trapped in an environment where no one is safe, even if you’re outside of Stillwater, Ted is still not getting the respect he thinks he deserves as the coup did not go as he hoped. The first volume suffered from going off on strange tangents, but here, Zdarsky is more on point with what he wants to do with the story that is always unfolding with new developments.
So much happens throughout these six issues, but Ramon K. Pérez’s art varies in quality. With more action involved, the art can look rushed and a bit bland; it’s only when the story leans more into drama, that there’s more detail in terms of how the characters look and react. Along with Mike Spicer’s vibrant coloring, there are some stunning panels with characters integrated into the hyper-detailed environments.
A major step up from the previous volume, Stillwater Vol. 2 feels more on point telling a story that is always developing, setting the stage for a possible new status quo in the future.
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