Alabaster: Wolves #5

Written by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Art by Steve Lieber and Rachelle Rosenberg

Letters by Steve Lieber

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Rob McMonigal

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Where Dancy goes, death follows. For her sake, that reputation needs to play out one more time if she hopes to survive the lures of the man who’s herded her into a final confrontation. It’s a battle of wills and words in the perfectly crafted conclusion of Alabaster: Wolves.

I was worried last issue that Caitlin R. Kiernan wouldn’t be able to tie so many things together with just one issue to go, but not only does she manage this impressive task, it’s done in a way that flows naturally. Kiernan uses brisk pacing to ensure that all of the lingering ideas are linked together and answered.

Each one of these resolutions is layered within the next and reference all that has come before, especially Dancy’s complex relation to her faith. It’s a masterful job of plotting that I don’t see nearly enough in the mini-series I read. Kiernan knows exactly how much space she has to tell her story, and does it by using every inch possible.

Without revealing what happens and ruin it for readers, suffice it to say that Dancy makes two important life decisions that involve acceptance and rejection. The whole character arc for Dancy has been about learning to understand that the world is not nearly as black and white as she wants it to be. The young woman who comes into town convinced she must keep what she has and follow her faith wherever it leads leaves the cursed place releasing control in order to gain it.

Every supporting character, from the questioning bird to the ghost to the angel pushes Dancy to seriously examine her life. The fact that they do it so carefully as to not be obvious plot devices is a credit to Kiernan. By the end of Alabaster: Wolves, Dancy has changed as a result of the choices she makes in this issue, and we as the reader can point to the moments in time that make this change possible and plausible.

That does not mean that Kiernan rules out future Dancy comic stories with such a definitive conclusion. While she is careful to close the book on the main points raised by this mini, there are definitely consequences resulting from the extremely surprising end scene that can be explored. I like that idea a lot — keeping options open, but not leaving readers hanging on things they expected to know in this story.

Everything I have liked so far about Steve Lieber’s artwork is present again in this final issue. He structures the pages to get the maximum effect from Kiernan’s script, varying panel type and size to fit the story. The looks on the faces of Dancy, the ghost, and their antagonist show the strong emotions that go along with Kiernan’s biting dialogue that tortures Dancy at every turn. We can tell when words are being spit out or provided tearfully, all without Lieber (who is also the letterer) resorting to bold print or font size changes. The emotions are drawn for us, which is exactly how it should be.

This final issue ramps up the horror, and Lieber delivers, with a strong assist from colorist Rachelle Rosenberg. Doors are lined with skulls, blood and offal smear the walls, and skulls are everywhere. Using techniques from , the pair use shadow very effectively to highlight menace or make a scene more dramatic by only showing it in outline. The werewolf master looms in every panel, and his animal nature is clear, even when in human form. The blood smeared on Dancy’s pure white form shows that she is no longer the person she once was, giving a visual confirmation of the change we’ve seen from the actions Dancy takes. Everything is shown in visceral detail and gets just the right lighting from Rosenberg.

Dancy ends by saying, “you just gotta wait and see what’s next.” I sincerely hope that it’s another mini-series from Kiernan, Lieber and Rosenberg, because this one might be the best I’ve read in years. Anyone who is a fan of great comics where the story and art work in perfect harmony owe it to themselves to pick up Alabaster: Wolves , even if they aren’t a horror fan per se. This is a story that surpasses genre, as all great stories do.


Homecoming #1

Written by David Wohl

Art by Emilio Lascio

Colors by Brett Smith with Stefani Rennee

Letters by Josh Reed

Published by Aspen Comics

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Homecoming #1 comes to us courtesy of the late Michael Turner, Scott Lobdell and David Wohl, veteran creators all with many projects under their belts of varying degrees of critical and commercial success. A few experienced guys doing a comic without the shackles of the mainstream to bring them down? Sounds like it’s worth it a shot. And it is but considering the pedigree, it should’ve been better than this.

Turner and Lobdell assisted in creating this book (it's billed as Turner's final creation before passing away in 2008), but Wohl is solely responsible for scripting it. The “teenagers and aliens” hook is one rife with possibility but Wohl commits comics suicide, hanging himself on narration boxes and inner monologue. The book reads like nothing is actually happening on the panel, but instead it’s all inside the thought process of its main character, Hunter Wilson. He and his friends are painful high school stereotypes that have no depth or redeeming qualities.

Hunter, in particular, is a sad attempt at recreating the Peter Parker-type in order to create a lead that readers can easily identify with. But I find it hard to. I mean, Hunter Wilson is “an average guy in an average town” who considers himself an “intellectual” and yet he blows an easy question in chemistry and he and his friends are the entirety of the Homecoming Committee. Isn’t Homecoming kind of the realm of the cheerleaders and jocks? Shouldn’t these kids be on Yearbook or something? Am I nitpicking? Sure. But Wohl’s attempts to create believable, teenaged characters don’t add up.

Plot development and pacing is an issue as well. The opening scene is interesting and provides decent set-up for what’s to come. For a little while, it seems like we are entering 80s teen movie territory with a sci-fi twist a la “Weird Science” or “War Games.” But then Wohl decides to rush through potentially compelling plot elements at a speed that would make Usain Bolt jealous — and all he rushes toward are scenes that involve Hunter’s flat group of friends.

In doing so, Wohl misses the chance to flesh out Hunter and quintessential sexy alien, Celeste, enough to prop the rest of the cast up. Because of the speed of exposition and plot development, the cliffhanger is unfulfilling too. It’s hard to care about what happens to a bunch of characters that are shallow and undefined.

Emilio Lasio mostly delivers on the art side though. His faces show a full range of emotions. His panel layouts definitely show some imagination. But while he does excel at close-ups of the characters, sometimes the range of emotions is lost when more than a couple of characters are present in a panel or in some mid-range shots.

That said, Lasio handles a range of subjects pretty well. The day-to-day high school work as well as the more sci-fi tinged alien scenes are all rendered with strong lines and solid backgrounds (seemingly a lost art in modern comics). Brett Smith’s coloring should also get a mention for being appropriate and in tune with the shifting tone of the story and line art.

Sometimes a veteran presence doesn’t always equal a good product, and even promising artwork isn’t enough to save this one. Homecoming #1 has a good core concept that is, unfortunately, diluted by bad pacing, cookie cutter characters and overwrought narration.

Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!

Twitter activity