Comic Review: Alabaster: Wolves
There is something inherently mythic about the American South, something impossible to put a finger on that makes the monsters of myth seem more possible. Acclaimed fantasy author Caitlin R. Kiernan has teamed with artist Steve Lieber to bring one of her characters, Dancy Flammarion, to the comic-book format with Alabaster: Wolves, a five issue limited series from Dark Horse Comics initially published between April and August of 2012. Dancy is a teenaged albino, and she has made it her mission in life to eradicate all monsters, but what she encounters in a small South Carolina town will cause her to question whether or not everything she believes in is a lie, and it also might cost Dancy her life.
A sixteen-year-old girl with albinism is waiting at a bus stop in a deserted South Carolina town casually speaking with a bird about just what it is that she does. She says that she is doing God’s work by hunting monsters; her family is dead and the only company she keeps is a guardian angel who may or may not be demonic in nature. Though, it could just be that the difference between angelic and demonic is merely the point of view of the one judging. An encounter with a werewolf around Dancy’s age leaves the wolf dead and Dancy alone. Dancy, abandoned by her angel and hunted by werewolves, must do what she does best in order to get out alive. But her past actions have set her on a collision course with something more evil than she could have ever expected, and it will cause her to question her faith and will change her in ways she could never have imagined.
Dancy Flammarion is a character perfect for comic-books. I haven’t read any of Kiernan’s work featuring (or not featuring, for that matter) the character, but this series has sold me on her potential for the format before I had reached the halfway point of the story. Dancy has all the hallmarks for a successful run in the medium: she is visually striking, has a clear goal with room enough for variation in the stories that can be told, and it’s just plain enjoyable to watch her do her monster-slaying thing. Dancy is gruff and unrefined: she says “aint” rather than “isn’t” and is willing to use a dull kitchen knife to slaughter werewolves. She doesn’t do it with style, but she certainly does it with effectiveness.
There are two other prominent characters in the story, an anthropomorphized crow she not-so-affectionately refers to as “Bird” and Maisie, the werewolf that causes Dancy’s black and white morality to begin to gray. Bird likes to needle Dancy about her personality and her past, and is pretty funny as well. I personally never tired of the bird puns. Maisie is a werewolf, at least initially, but one that exemplifies the general hypocrisy of Dancy’s mission. She isn’t evil, she may kill, but then again, so does Dancy, and she is willing to help an enemy for mutual gain, or the greater good. The interactions between the three are very amusing, but never feel the least bit slight.
This is a tightly written five-issue series; just about every scene in the book contributes to the overall narrative of Alabaster: Wolves. This series has a complete narrative that resolves itself by the end of the series, but it also definitely leaves itself open to more adventures featuring Dancy Flammarion. The use of werewolves in a supernatural horror story is hardly a rare occurrence, but this series adds some unique twists to the mythology that muddles the morality of eliminating them. The use of monsters in this series successfully blends the traditionally supernatural (ghosts, werewolves, etc.) with more biblical mythologies, like the presence of angels and demons, into something quite intriguing, and very mythic.
An aspect of the story and characterization from Alabaster: Wolves that I really liked was how ambiguous the morality of just about everyone, especially Dancy, is. Dancy has her mission from God, or someone (it is quite vague), but her killing of monsters causes a lot collateral damage and innocents to die. This comic has Dancy asked the question, “is it all worth it?” (I’m paraphrasing) before the halfway point, and that is a good thing. A story where the protagonist never has their motivations questioned by either others or themselves is probably not a very good story, and Alabaster: Wolves is a good story. Dancy is hardly a beacon of virtue, and she is very aware of this, but she also sees herself as a necessary cleansing force for the world, much like, say, the Punisher. There is also a very short story at the end of the book, “Alabaster: Shelter”, that sheds more light on Dancy’s methodology where she kills a troll that can hardly be considered evil, but has done bad things.
The art by Steve Lieber is perfectly suited to Alabaster: Wolves, it is dark and atmospheric and pretty good to look at as well. Lieber’s art has a very gothic feeling to it, which is something that goes hand in hand with both the American South setting and the darkly supernatural subject matter. His pencils can be a bit rough at times but, for the most part, Alabaster: Wolves is a comic-book that looks very good from beginning to end. In addition, the colors of Rachelle Rosenberg complement Lieber’s art superbly, and the combination of the two just, simply, works.
Alabaster: Wolves is a very good horror/fantasy comic-book that should be picked up by fans of both genres. Caitlin Kiernan has brought a very intriguing character to the comic-book format, and I sincerely hope that Dark Horse Comics will follow this up with more works featuring the character, and hopefully with the same creative team as well. I liked this comic, I know it probably isn’t for everyone, but it is certainly worth a look from people always on the lookout for good fantasy, I know I am. Read it, you probably won’t regret it.