REVIEW: Alabaster: Wolves #2

Written by CAITLIN R. KIERNAN
Art & Letters by STEVE LIEBER
Colors by RACHELLE ROSENBERG

My initial review of Alabaster: Wolves #1 provided a cautious recommendation due to concern about the potential of teen angst factoring into the storyline and creating yet another Twilight clone. However, fortune has seen fit to provide evidence to the contrary in the form of Issue #2. Caitlin Kiernan has little interest in traveling down that path, and instead, continues to weave the story of a reluctant, adolescent agent of God pitted against the demonic hordes occupying the post-apocalyptic Deep South.

Alabaster: Wolves #2 picks up immediately after Dancy’s battle with the werewolf, Maisie, whom she left for dead. Steve Lieber takes the reader on a tour of the desolate town, and it is through his depication of the rough and forelorn landscapes that his ability as an artist truly stands out. I also found Rachelle Rosenberg’s dark and brooding color palette underscores the sharp, shadowy world Lieber presents to readers, which further helped set the tone and overall atmosphere of Dancy’s world. Dancy and her black bird companion make their way around town in search of medicine and supplies; they also seek respite in a church in the hope that it will provide a place for her to rest and heal from her wound.

I have to confess something: Prior to reading Alabaster: Wolves, my only experience with the work of Caitlin Kiernan was the Beowulf adaptation she wrote for the Neil Gaiman and Roger Avery screenplay, which many viewers I know more commonly refer to as “Jolie-Wulf.” As this was my only knowledge of her work in comics and writing in general, however, I now know how ill-informed I was as to the creative abilities this writer seems to possess. Kiernan clearly makes liberal use of Chekov’s gun in her writing. (“Chekov’s gun” refers to the notion that “one must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is going to fire it”—Anton Chekov, 1889). Throughout the two issues of this series, Kiernan is already fast at work weaving bits of information into the storyline that hint at things to come. The runes painted on the sides of buildings in the city reinforce this point and underscore the mystery of what lurks within. Of course, we will have to wait until Issues 3-5 to discover what this could be. But between the allusions to elements from mythology and mystic cultures of the past, Kiernan’s writing provides a very satisfying read.

There is another point that should be addressed that Kiernan deserves credit for in this new mini-series. As many comic readers are aware, there is often a significant gap between the number of male comic book readers and the number of female comic book readers—particularly those who patronize the more established publishers. And while Dark Horse is still considered “indie” by some, it is still a significantly established comic publisher with a good deal of clout in the field, much like Image Comics. The executives from all of these major companies find themselves faced with a problem of bringing new female readers into the fold; and yet, what incentive is there for women to read comics that, by and large, often cater to an audience of heterosexual, middle-aged men? This issue continues to stoke fires on blogs such as Kelly Thompson’s “She Has No Head” or in various articles on websites such as Sequart.com, with a multitude of different perspectives being hashed over. For what it’s worth, I think Caitlin Kiernan is on to something with this mini-series, and it is making me look at the need for on-going titles of this sort.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not advocating the notion that Dancy is a feminist bastion for superheroines. This young woman, for one thing, lacks the flash and flair of a superheroine. People know who she is, but they are underwhelmed upon seeing her in person. This plays directly against such notions of mainstream superhero comics. But let’s take a look at the character Kiernan is presenting to readers and whom Lieber & Rosenberg flesh out. She’s clearly a female, but we know this only in less overt ways. The occasional panel that highlights a bodily curvature that seems less masculine than it is feminine; however, we are not inundated with the over-the-top “porn aesthetic” that so many other female heroes are subjected to in their respective comics. Dancy has a basic kitchen knife for her armaments, no protective armor, and only her own wits to protect her. She is street smart, gritty, and still very dangerous. Furthermore, she possesses an admirable mission but is complex enough of a character to recognize the possibility of the gruesome work she is committed to doing might affect her in some less than positive ways. She might not be murdering others, but she is still killing these things, and this repeated act seems to take its toll—an occurrence rarely seen from standard fare superheroes—as she desperately attempts to hold on to “her stuff,” or what might be seen as an attempt to hold on the part of her that is still human. Instead of a super-powered model in lingerie who deals in absolutes, readers are presented with a protagonist who relies upon her own ability and provides much more possibilities for character development due to being depicted in a far more real and proportionate manner. When I think of the possibility for successful female characters, Kiernan’s Dancy Flammarion is one rising star who stands out from the pack.

In my last review, I scored the Lieber and Rosenberg’s artwork as a 3.5 out of 5. In the letters section of Alabaster: Wolves #2, Editor Rachel Edidin states: “We wanted something rougher—an artist who could grab the weird and ugly and really run with it…his art also has a scratchy wildness that reminds me of old-school horror comics.” Between this rough and raw aesthetic and what I perceived to be a lackluster depiction of what is perhaps one of the most visually exciting horror monsters out there (the werewolf), I deducted 1.5 points—still, a solid grade, but only slightly better than average. For this review, I continue to maintain a .5 point deduction for the depiction of the werewolves. I simply find them to be less than intimidating, and being the title monsters, I’d like to see a more dynamic and horrific representation of these monsters. That said, I have to give a great deal of respect to Lieber and Rosenberg for the way in which they truly captured the “godforsaken” nature of the church Dancy finds and enters. It truly is a desolate and haunting scene. And while the way Lieber creates his monsters may not suit my interest, I have to point out that fans of H.P. Lovecraft will no doubt recognize the “Lovecraftian” monsters that appear throughout this issue. No doubt, this is a great example of where the writer influences the art and the artist faithfully renders the writer’s vision.

Overall, this book is one I feel far more confident recommending to readers. While I love some of the mainstream superhero stuff creators are offering reading audiences, this mini-series is an all-too-welcomed breath of post-apocalyptic air. I also love the minor detail the creative team includes at the end of each of these two issues telling readers what music playing in the background as each part of the book was created. I have half a mind now to download these songs and reread each issue again to best channel the mood. And while Kiernan is unsure where the series will go once it’s completed, she has assured readers there will be more Dancy Flammarion to go around in the future—and that’s a good thing!

 WRITING: 4.5/5
ART: 4.5/5
OVERALL: 4.5/5

About Forrest Helvie

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