Rules are broken and faces rearranged in STILLWATER #12

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By Cy Beltran

Stillwater #12

Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artist: Ramón K. Perez
Colorist: Mike Spicer
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Cover Artist: Ramón K. Perez
Image Comics

(The following review contains mild spoilers for Stillwater #12.)

Stillwater has been a wild ride from the get-go, and this issue pushes that energy even further, crafting a tale that is both a satisfying ending to the second arc and a wild tease for the rest of the series that’ll make you greedy for the next issue.

For anyone who hasn’t been following it, Stillwater is the story of a town where no one ever ages and violence means nothing. At first, the town felt that this was a blessing, but it turned out to be a devastating curse. Democracy quickly eroded and the town transformed into a quasi-dictatorship. Most people weren’t able to escape, but a few did, and the series follows what happens when some of those people make their way back to Stillwater.

I had been following the series as it first came out, but the life of an undergrad means that I (unfortunately) have to prioritize groceries sometimes instead of comics. Luckily, I was able to catch up with the story before this latest issue and was happy to see that it had continued the explosive momentum it’s had from the start.

I wouldn’t say that this issue is the best of the series, but it’s definitely near the top. Chip Zdarsky keeps the plot moving at a strong pace and pushes the characters into places we haven’t seen them yet. Laura’s transformation is shocking, but is absolutely a natural evolution of the woman we’ve seen in the previous twelve issues. Galen’s evolution from goofy kid to something closer to an authoritarian feels a little rushed, but Zdarsky keeps me believing in it with the drastic actions Galen takes.

Something I’ve noticed as I’ve gone through the series is that it likes to slowly build up to where it wants to go. There are a lot of little pit stops along the way that reveal what’s going on and how we got to where we are, but they work well to fill in and expand the story in fascinating ways. In pretty much every issue, just when we think we know everything about the book, Zdarsky and Ramón K. Perez manage to flip everything on its head and introduce new wrinkles to the story. 

This issue is no exception to that structure, and even after the wild takeover by the children of Stillwater in #10 and the time jump at the beginning of #11, I had absolutely no idea where this was going to go. I won’t say what happens, but the revelations of this issue completely change where the story is headed, and nothing seems like it could be the same. It’s so frustrating that the creative team does such a great job with this book, because now I have to suffer until next Spring to find out where it goes from here.

Zdarsky brings his a-game to this issue, showcasing his mastery over plotting and dialogue within every page of the story, something that is wonderfully complimented by Perez’s artwork. There’s a real easy feel in the pacing from panel-to-panel, which feels to me like a true meshing of Zdarsky and Perez’s talents. I’ve read a lot of comics where plot points just kind of happen and the reader is meant to stumble their way through the story, but the creators of Stillwater completely avoid that. Beat after beat feels completely natural and entirely intentional, making the experience a joy issue to issue. 

Speaking of Perez’s work, the way his pages shine with Mike Spicer’s coloring is tremendous. The beginning of the book starts off with a more subdued palette, matching the quieter moments (if you can call throat-slashing quiet) of Zdarsky’s script with some muted browns and darkened greys. But as we move further through the issue, amber and almond tones creep in, culminating in the gruesome image of a burned corpse marching across the page. 

This cover speaks even further to the dynamism of their teamwork, with an almost psychedelic feel to the burning at the stake. These violent reds creep their way in and look like they’re poisoning Daniel as the light sky blues and pale yellows consume the rest of his body.

I’ve noticed that the chapter breaks from issue to issue are also amazingly done, and I think that speaks to the power of Rus Wooton’s lettering. There’s a cinematic quality to the title cards at the beginning of each issue, and I think it speaks to the strengths of the collaboration between Perez and Wooton. Not only that, but Wooton creates some killer sound effects throughout the book that really hammer home how dangerous Stillwater is. 

My only real complaint with the series is that there are so many characters that we just don’t get to see as much as I’d like to. Don’t get me wrong, the exploits of the main cast are incredibly interesting to follow, but I’d really love to spend some more time with characters like Mrs. Lillow or Dr. Walsh. I’m sure we’ll definitely get more time with them since the story is only twelve issues in (and there is the anthology Stillwater: The Escape coming in March), but I have been hoping for a little more time with some of the more peripheral characters.

Overall, I’m excited to have been able to come back to the world of Stillwater and I’m looking forward to whatever comes next in this excellent series. Anyone looking for more is going to have to wait until March for Stillwater: The Escape, while ongoing issues of the book will return this Spring.

Final Verdict: BUY

Published by Image Comics, Stillwater #12 is on sale in stores and digitally now.

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