Reading Alabaster: Wolves by Caitlin R. Kiernan and Steve Lieber feels as if I’ve been dropped mid-way through a horror film. There are monsters, a four-headed angel, a talking bird, a haunted church, and an albino hero who comes loaded with cryptic backstory. It is also the best comic I’ve read so far in 2013.
This the first work I’ve read from Kiernan, whose bio is an impressive resume of genre projects in novels, short stories, and comics for DC/Vertigo. Kiernan’s heroine, Dancy Flammarion (yes, you read that correctly), is a character from her novels but prior reading is not required. Like most contemporary fantasy heroines, Dancy is a reluctant Chosen One, and she alone must stand against the forces of darkness in order to—well, we’ve been here before, but what sets her apart is that she isn’t sexualized. Dancy isn’t fancy; she wears cargo pants and long sleeves underneath a t-shirt. She has a bad haircut, red eyes, and plenty of bruises and scuff marks. She’s a storied hero, and part of the fun is hearing other characters refer to her past exploits—one villainess asks, “All us monsters you done laid low, and you don’t believe in werewolves?”
Then there’s the spitting-angry, four-headed, fiery angel that looms over Dancy. What is the story here? Readers aren’t given much to go on, but there’s clearly a tale or two to tell should Kiernan ever feel like enlightening new fans (please). The angel directs Dancy to her supernatural targets, but at the outset of the graphic novel Dancy is already chafing at her duty and questioning the angelic monster:
And me, I’m silently asking it, “Just this once. Just this once you could do the deed your own self. Seems like I’ve earned that much. Just this once, please.” But I know better.
Another aspect that sets Wolves apart from its peers is the citing of music that Kiernan and artist Steve Lieber listened to while working on each chapter. I admit that most of it went above my head (All Eternals Deck by the Mountain Goats, for example), but again, that’s the fun here—the reader is out of his or her element. We aren't privy to everything in Dancy’s world, because we haven't been with her from the beginning. We’re catching up with her as she catches her demons. There are twists and revelations that remain still-spun and unrevealed by the book’s end.
The last page finishes with a rare “The End”—the idea that there aren’t more Dancy stories is perhaps the scariest moment in this horror comic.
Alabaster: Wolves releases next month!