Stillwater #1 Review: An Incredible Debut That Subverts Expectation

Stillwater #1
9/10
Zdarsky and Perez build character so well that this horror comic would be just as fun to read if nothing scary ended up happening to the characters.

Stillwater is the new creator-owned series from Image/Skybound that pairs writer Chip Zdarsky, one of the funniest folks in comics, with artist Ramón K. Perez and colorist Mike Spicer for this comic about a town with a unique secret.

Chip Zdarsky and Ramon K. Perez's Stillwater #1 cover. Credit: Image Comics
Chip Zdarsky and Ramon K. Perez's Stillwater #1 cover. Credit: Image Comics

Going into Stillwater #1 blind is something else. Obviously, the cover screams "horror" at the top of its lungs, what with the skeleton mom cradling a baby over a red background with dark roots that look like veins… but still. Until Page Sixteen, this could easily be a road trip buddy comic where the down-on-his-luck lead finds a connection to a long-lost family member and learns a life lesson. Zdarsky's characterization and dialogue are strong enough that I would have loved to have read that, but things do, of course, take a turn for the horrific in a surprising and inventive way. At every corner, Stillwater turns away from cliché, subverting expectations with a dynamic, engaging story.

Perez and Spicer are perfectly in sync with Zdarsky's script, delivering a beautifully illustrated comic that feels scarier at the end because of the way it completely avoids what people will expect a horror comic to look like. With a slight watercolor vibe, much of this comic is idyllic scenery as the characters set out on a road trip toward what they hope is a big payday and ends up being a nasty surprise. The bar scene, in particular at the beginning of the issue, which is subtly gorgeous with its blue and pink palette, is a standout scene from this team. Letterer Rus Wooton shines here as well with subtly chosen colors for SFX and understated dialogue balloons.

Stillwater #1 is a debut that blows expectations out of the water by making the characters feel real so that when the reality of their situation sets in, it feels all the more grave.

About Theo Dwyer

Theo Dwyer writes about comics, film, and games.