STILLWATER #2, available from Image Comics on October 21st, wastes no time dispelling the mystery surrounding the town’s secret power while Daniel faces judgment. Written by Chip Zdarsky and drawn by Rámon K. Perez, this latest chapter is an excellent character study about the extremes a community will go to protect its secrets.
Perez’s cover art gets high marks for successfully achieving literal and figurative visuals in one shot. The Judge and his bloody gavel embody the Judge’s frequently lethal decisions every time an outsider crosses Stillwater’s border. This issue is all about the Judge, and so, the cover does its job perfectly.
This second issue in the series is a mixed bag from Zdarsky.
Where the story works is in the speed with which the questions about the town get answered. The Judge quickly rattles off an explanation of the town’s power and metes out his appointed brand of “justice” against outsiders that violate the town’s borders. There are also a few tense scenes between individual pairs of characters that foreshadow a growing sense of dissatisfaction among Stillwater residents with the status quo.
Where the story doesn’t quite work is in its continuation of the primary flaw from the first issue (read the issue #1 review here)—namely, the story’s predictability. If a town suddenly discovered all its inhabitants were immortal and immune from all harm, Zdarsky has the opportunity to create a fresh take on an old idea but instead opted for established Twilight Zone-esque tropes. The Stillwater residents view their situation as a divine blessing that must be protected with cult-like zeal. There’s no plan. No ingenuity. No desire to discover the true source of the town’s power. Simply a consensus to exist and be thankful. You get the impression the townspeople are bored with life, and unfortunately, that boredom translates to the reading experience as well.
Perez’s art style has a little more room to shine with this issue in the jarring and shockingly sudden acts of violence. A young boy leaps across the chasm separating builds on Main Street. The deputy takes a bullet to the face as a “warning.” A woman’s body gets tossed into a makeshift grave penalty box. These sporadic bits of action are well-executed and add some energy into an otherwise conversation-heavy issue.
Perez also adds some emotional energy to the issue with powerfully expressive faces. Characters grimace, frown, gasp, and scowl with tons of authentic emotion.
Mike Spicer’s effectively uses color to punctuate the plot with specific transitions that pop. An early flashback scene is filtered with a light tone to add a veneer of age to the memory. The aforementioned gunshot scene practically explodes with yellow and red to amplify the sudden violence’s shock value. Spicer’s colors are a great example of filtering to augment the age or impact of a scene.
Rus Wooton makes great use of selective bolding to emphasize the specific vocal cues in the dialog. This is a dialog-heavy issue, so Wooton’s choice to bold specific words give the conversations some rhythm and emphasis the reader can easily imagine, making the dialog more realistic. Great work by Wooton.
STILLWATER #2, available from Image Comics on October 21st, efficiently answers the first issue’s questions and establishes several points of conflict for future issues. Despite a largely predictable plot, the art is strong from the entire team.