My pick of the week, Alabaster: Wolves #1, makes monster-hunting cool again in this nifty post-apocalyptic adventure.
As I mentioned over in my This Week In Comics post, I really liked this book. It tied with Saga #2 as my favorite issue of the week, though I’d probably downgrade it just a little bit, having re-read it a few times. But why? Gritty adventures in post-apocalyptic wastelands are practically a dime a dozen these days, so what makes Irish novelist Caitlin R. Kiernan’s Alabaster: Wolves pop when, for me at least, so many of the others flop? As ever, the devil’s in the details.
Part of it is the protagonist, Dancy, an albino teenager who has dedicated her life to slaying monsters. Though I later learned that Dancy originated in a late-90’s novel from Kiernan and some 2006 short stories, she feels new here, and it’s for a reason: dissatisfied with her fourteen year old novel, she largely reinvents the character here, aging her three years and crafting a new story – and, in some small ways, new personality – for her heroine.
Another major part of the book’s success for me is the art team. Stevel Lieber draws Dancy as a tough, no-nonsense teen in rags just this side of starving, and his work with the book’s only other character – a cunning werewolf woman gunning for the girl – is subtle and menacing, while colorist Rachelle Rosenberg uses color to give the characters and the setting a little more personality. The panel where Dancy faces the flaming wrath of her guardian angel is probably the best in the book, a perfect blend of strong character design from Lieber and gorgeous colors from Rosenberg that tell us everything we need to know about Dancy’s relationship with her ‘angel’.
The book’s biggest problem, artistically speaking, is its brief fight scene, which is astonishingly well set-up, but lacks in the execution. It’s too static at first, with the panels failing to flow well. The last page of the fight is much stronger – Lieber keeps the angles and the characters’ spatial positioning constant, so the page reads very smoothly. But that’s a relatively minor problem in an otherwise very solid book. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for Lieber and Rosenberg from here on out.
Another part is Kiernan’s writing. Dancy talks like an old school Western gunslinger dropped in a surreal wonderland of horror, with talking birds and pissed off werewolves. Part of it is that Dancy comes across as a genuinely clever heroine without coming across as a brilliant one – her stalling tactic (a riddle game) against the werewolf who cornered her was well-handled, a good way to mount tension before releasing it in the fight, but it wouldn’t have worked it she was a teen genius who could field any riddle with ease.
Alabaster: Wolves #1 is the first part of a five part mini-series. While comic fans won’t find too much terribly unique about Dancy or her world, Kiernan, Lieber and Rosenberg have put their best feet forward here. Dancy is a clever, likable, believable protagonist, and Lieber and Rosenberg have designed a wasteland of a setting that’s easy to get lost in. I can only hope the rest of the short series lives up to the promise on display here.