Much like when I reviewed The Girl Who Owned a City this proved to be another book I was initially ill suited to read. This is often the case with comics that are based on books, or in the case of the first issue of Alabaster: Wolves which takes place in the universe of a book. In a perfect world I would try to find out more about the books this comic is based on but due to deadlines and a lack of access that often proves impossible. So instead I have to let this issue speak for itself, and although it proved to be a very solid issue from a construction standpoint it also proved to be a pretty frustrating jumping on point for someone with no experience with the books on which it's based. Alabaster: Wolves centers on a young girl named Dancy Flammarion whose main characteristics are her albino complexion and the fact that she's a teenage monster hunter. In this issue we find Dancy in a rundown town in South Carolina waiting at a rundown bus stop. Her night is interrupted by a young werewolf who seeks to find out more about Dancy and her mission (and angels are apparently involved) which eventually leads to an inevitable confrontation.
The book is written by Caitlin R. Kiernan, who is also the writer and creator of the overall Alabaster universe, and she constructs a really solid issue with this book. It all takes place in one location which I think is the best way this story could have been told as it both grounds the characters and the overall tone and atmosphere of the book. It also creates a good framing device, Dancy waiting for the bus, to create a complete story over the course of one issue. I also really like how the writing used specific language, particularly the vocal tics of the South. Many writers think of the South as just adding the word "ya'll" to every other sentence and being done with it. Here it's the little things that give it that sense of authenticity: a turn of phrase, placing one word in front of another to create a whole new meaning, and various other verbal connotations.
Here's my overall problem with the book though: I feel almost no connection with Dancy as a character and after reading this issue it ultimately doesn't give me a compelling reason to pursue one. Like I said before, this is a continuation of an established character from a series of books. Dancy and her universe are already established and because of that I can't help but feel that there is some sort of crucial information I'm just missing about this character. Readers more familiar with the source material may find plenty to enjoy here, which is fine in a way, because you want to reward those readers that have been with you for awhile. But it ultimately hurts readers such as myself that don't have anything to latch on to. Branching a story out into a whole new medium is always a chance to bring new readers and new fans into your universe, but I felt like this story was a little too "inside baseball" to do that.
I've often said that the big problem with first issues is that they often get bogged down in setup. But with this book I couldn't help but think it might have helped to have a bit more setup. Especially in terms of Dancy's character. As this is, I gather, a fairly popular story, I can only assume she's a fairly compelling character. But all we really learn here is what's at face value: she's young, she's clearly running from something, and she kills monsters. Frankly, that isn't enough for me.
Of course all that aside I still got a book about a teenage girl fighting a werewolf, which looked visually stunning thanks to art by Steve Lieber. I'll openly admit I love Steve Lieber's work a lot. Whiteout is a book I hold in especially high regard, and here his work is just as consistent. If Whiteout was an exercise in the starkness of Antartica, then this book is most definitely an exercise in the creepy crooked atmosphere of a gothic horror novel with a coloring assist from Rachelle Rosenburg. Together they really impressed me here in creating a truly eerie atmosphere. The biggest trick Lieber brings to this book is his use of body language and how his characters move. This particular skill hits its high point with the way he shows the transformation of the werewolf. I've seen transformations in other comics and this is by far is the most visually fascinating. It's not quick and violent. Instead, it's slow and methodical, playing out over the course of several pages, which makes it increasingly more grotesque as you study it inching closer to its inevitable and monstrous conclusion.
Like I said before, I don't have a lot of base knowledge on the Alabaster setting and characters. I'm sure those with that base knowledge will eat this miniseries up. However, even without the backstory, when I was done I knew this book had at least one known quantity: A girl fighting monsters. Although I can't say that I'm overly enthused with the book, I would be lying if I said the book didn't give me that. For some that will be enough to pick up the first issue and possibly even the second. However, I honestly can't say one way or the other if it will be enough for most. I'm not sure it is for me. I don't really blame you one way or the other.
TL;DR: Alabaster: Wolves #1 is a perfectly solid story, but proves a difficult read for someone not familiar with the established universe even with the help of some great art.
Alabaster: Wolves is a new miniseries (5 parts) written by Caitlin R Kiernan with art by Steve Lieber and colors by Rachelle Rosenburg. It is published by Dark Horse Comics. You can find it in comic stores everywhere today (4/11).