As the first comic I was tasked with reviewing, I had no idea what to expect when I was given a copy of Stillwater # 1. The cover features the comic’s protagonist, Bill (featured above), sitting stoically on a porch in the rain, water flooding up to his ankles; he stares darkly towards the reader. As I delved more into the comic, I found the cover to be indicative of what the comic was: dark, intriguing, mysterious.
Written by C.W. Cooke with art by K. Wroten, Stillwater# 1 tells the story of the titular town and the mysteries that hide just below the surface. The comic opens up with a mysterious lake creature eating and pulling a couple of teens down into the depths of the water. Shortly after, an old farmer covers up any trace of the murder and then takes his own life. These events lead into our main story as our protagonist, Bill Nitz, inherits the home of the recently deceased farmer. Bill tosses and turns through his first night as he has surreal nightmares that imply something off about his past. Bill heads into town only to be treated coldly by the townspeople. The only person who shows civility to him is the town’s police detective, Jude Peters, but even that conversation ends on a strange, chilling note.
As Bill shops for tools to fix up his house, he sees a newspaper clipping of an article about a missing girl with a picture of his farm on the wall. When Bill questions the owner about the article, the hardware salesman pulls out a shotgun, and tells Bill to mind his own business. Before he can get shot, a friendly, old woman stops the salesman, and then assures Bill that she will help him get adjusted in town. As Bill walks home, feeling slightly better at this small town, another person is pulled into the lake by the creature, and the townspeople, ordered by the old woman, have a clandestine meeting where they kill the hardware salesmen.
Though not perfect (my main critique beings against some hammy dialogue from Jude Peters), Stillwater has enough good things about it to recommend to any comic fan, specifically those who inclined to darker, graphic comics. The plot is like many other “stranger in a strange land” stories, but there is a bit of Lynchian (i.e. Twin Peaks) quirkiness that sets this story apart from similar stories. As I read through, I found myself intrigued by each character, mainly because everyone was a bit weird. I felt very much like Bill, walking through this town feeling more and more confused and irked with every new person I met. I kept asking myself, what is this place? Cooke keeps the reader turning the pages, hoping to find some answers to the opening issue’s many questions.
Complimenting the story perfectly is the artwork by Wroten. Somewhere between a Tim Burton movie and film noir, Wroten‘s style perfectly captures the feeling of the story. Everything looks decidedly creepy, and each character has exaggerated, grotesque features that fit with the “strange town” story line. Wroten also shines when it comes to Bill’s nightmare sequences, creating an unsettling view into the demons that haunt our protagonist’s mind. I look forward to seeing what other images come from this artist’s twisted imagination.
I think the best critique for the first of anything is whether or not you want more of that thing. With regards to Stillwater # 1, I definitely do want more. Whatever is going on in this town, I want to know what is up, and I will excitedly read on to find out.
What do you think? Does this mystery grab you too? Sound off in the comments and let us know on Twitter. All 4 issues of Stillwater are available for digital purchase here.