Normally we review only the first issue of a new series or story arc or wait until the arc is done; this gives us the benefit of discussing something new that we think might deserve your attention or taking a more in-depth look at the whole story instead of merely a chapter. It was a change we at Comics Bulletin thought was for the best and I generally agree with it.
So why are you reading this review of the third issue of Alabaster:Wolves, then?
Well, every once in a while a comic comes along that makes you stop and take notice. It's a pretty good year when you get a couple of comics that demand your attention, but we're already nearing a handful for 2012 and we haven't even hit the halfway point. Alabaster: Wolves is the most recent of those comics, and it isn't receiving anywhere near the amount of attention that it deserves.
I'm breaking from our standard for reviews here at Comics Bulletin because Alabaster: Wolves commands a new standard.
Based on Caitlin R. Kiernan's previously published Dancy Flammarion stories (Threshold, Alabaster), Wolves is a bit of a re-imagining and a bit of filling in the blanks in Dancy's life. Dancy is an albino teenager from the deep south, guided/haunted by an angel as she goes about the business of hunting monsters. When I say "angel," make no mistake, I mean the terrifying, Old Testament angels, not the kind that the X-Man is modeled after.
About now, you're probably having thoughts of the "teen paranormal romance" section at you local Barnes & Noble, but Kiernan dispels any notions of treading that path from the first issue. The tension escalates with each page, culminating in an unbelievably brutal release that causes Dancy and the reader to question who the real monster is.
It's generally pretty important in horror to make as much of the story feel as real as possible, so that when the writer asks you to believe in the one strange thing that sets their world apart from ours, it's far easier for you to go along for the ride.
Kiernan's dialogue feels particularly genuine, as if Dancy had been yanked out of a Florida swamp and deposited right into page one, panel one. Although I can't say that I know what a southern dialect should really sound like, I've only been further south than Missouri once in my life, I trust that southerners don't really sound the way X-Men writers would have us believe. I get the feeling that most southerners sound like Dancy. The unusual word choices, colloquialisms and sentence fragments that make up her speech feel far more believable.
It takes more than just great dialogue to sell a story, though, and Steve Lieber's pencils are more than up to the task. The backgrounds of Wolves are filled with boarded up, old buildings, slowly being overtaken by vegetation, the kind that remain when a town's been all but abandoned. Lieber's done an excellent job setting Wolves in the type of town that recedes slowly into nature, the kind you would drive by along an old highway and not even spare a second glance.
His characters have character, too. Dancy doesn't just sit, she lounges while chatting with a werewolf who is very casually flashing the tip of a fang in her smile; it's a sign of quality when you can tell so much about what is going on in a panel just by glancing at body language.
If Kiernan and Lieber weren't enough for you, Rachelle Rosenberg's colors should seal the deal. Wolves is a dark story, which Rosenberg amplifies with an almost sickly, blue-green sky hanging over every scene. Every scene, that is, except when the conflicts get physical (or metaphysical), where the sky explodes into a brilliant red-orange until things settle down. Additionally, Rosenberg adds a pink hue to Dancy's skin, complimenting her white hair and nearly blood-red eyes, presenting her as being albino, rather than just simply pale.
This praise? I wrote it describing the first issue in particular, but it fits perfectly with the second and third issues. I'll be damn surprised if they don't keep it up for the rest of the series, too.
While you may have missed the first two issues (and you should pick them up if you can, they're stelar comics), the third issue provides you with a pretty solid recap within the first few pages. This isn't your Marvel "white text on a black page with one image" recap, either, but a continuation of the story that lets you pick up via context what came before.
Once you're caught up, Wolves #3 delivers a bit of the backstory of Dancy, specifically in how it relates to this series, and some of her early interactions with were-creatures. Kiernan, Lieber and Rosenberg slowly build up the mythology of Dancy's world as the brutality climbs and the reader discovers just how dangerous a teenager can be when they think they're doing the work of God.
Don't be mistaken, this issue is certainly not an origin story; I don't know much more about Dancy than when I started the series. The hallmark of a great creative team, though, is that you don't really need to know the background of a character to enjoy the story they have to tell.
If you're enjoying what Dark Horse has released so far, you've got a bit of a back catalog you can go back to in the form of Kiernan's prose. I wouldn't be surprised if I make it through both of the Dancy Flammarion books before issue #4 hits the stands.
Dark Horse has a gem on their hands here, one that will probably be consistently enjoyable for as long as Kiernan, Lieber and Rosenberg want to keep it going; do yourself a favor and pick it up.
David Fairbanks doesn't get many things right the first time. He studied physics in college, loves science, music, comics, poetry, movies, books and education pertaining to all of the above. He will talk your ear off about Grant Morrison and Ben Folds, has an indie bookshelf larger than his Marvel, DC and Vertigo ones combined and if he ever actually grows up, more than anything else, he wants to still be happy as an “adult,” whatever that is.