With the first issue of Alabaster: Wolves, acclaimed author Caitlín R. Kiernan takes you into a surreal world where nothing is quite as it seems. Nearly every aspect of the story has two very distinct layers, making for a deeply intriguing world that is bound to draw in a large fan base. Kiernan is known for her dark fantasy stories, and it shows throughout the issue that she has dedicated ample time to crafting the universe, the characters, and the plot. The book stars Dancy Flammarion, an albino teenage monster-hunter who carries more burdens than Frodo Baggins. In this debut issue, Dancy finds herself in the South, sick and tired of her relentless life of killing. Unfortunately for her, the werewolves have caught scent of her in their midst, and things are looking grimmer than ever for the demon slayer. Kiernan has got the goods, and “Alabaster: Wolves” is a testament of her talent as a writer.
“Alabaster” is a part spinoff, part re-imagining of a few of Kiernana’s earlier stories. The character of Dancy Flammarion existed previously in Kiernan’s works as a demon slayer, but now she is re-appropriated for the comic world to face a new threat. Dancy has appeared in two previous stories, Thershold, and Alabaster, both of which have helped to define her prior to her entrance into comics. Suffice it to say that Kiernan knows the character well and she’s not afraid to use that to her full advantage.
The world of “Alabaster: Wolves” is hard to delineate, you’re never quite sure if it’s taking place in our world or some alternate version of our world, which really adds to the uneasy, eerie atmosphere. From the beginning, we see Dancy walking through a world that is similar to ours yet it looks like it’s been through hell. The birds talk, the town is barren, and there’s an albino 17 year old who hunts monsters. By stating that she’s a 17-year-old hunter, you may be thinking, “okay, this is like any other light-hearted teen horror”, but that notion couldn’t be further from the truth. Dancy herself is a much deeper character which you can tell from her speech and facial cues alone. Dancy won’t be lusting over any teenage heartthrobs, nor will she be struggling to pass a high school algebra test. Dancy is a tough cookie with nothing left to lose, and after this issue her character alone is enough to keep me coming back for more. It’s rare to see a character as well developed as Dancy after only one issue.
In this chapter we see the huntresss duke it out with a posh werewolf gal who thinks her shit doesn’t stink. The impulsive first person narrative combined with the witty dialogue between Dancy and the female werewolf are the crux of the issue. The interaction between the two takes up the bulk of the chapter, but it’s not nearly as boring as it sounds. They play a game of riddles, and at stake are Dancy’s life and a box of her sentimental belongings. Their interaction is extremely well done, very modern, and very relatable. They don’t sound you average comic book character; it’s not Superman telling you how much he loves his planet, it’s not Batman with his bitter musings on Gotham, nor is it over the top teenybopper talk in an attempt to relate to a younger audience. What you get is real and gritty coming from the mouth of a girl who couldn’t give a rat’s ass. The slow build up for the first half of the book is well worth it as the big showdown hits quicker than two shakes of a lambs tail, pitting the little white girl against the big bad femme-wolf.
The fact that Kiernan has already developed the world and the character in her previous works proves to be extremely beneficial for the first issue. There’s no bologna character intros, no lame narrative gimmicks, she simply puts you pulls into the world, without so much as offering a chance to deny it’s allure. Once you’re in, you’re hooked. As one would expect from an established author, the writing is remarkably solid. I have a feeling this series will breed a whole new audience for Kiernan’s novels. I know I will be seeking out all of the preceding Dancy stories in preparation for the next issue.
The building conflict between the female characters works perfectly, and makes for some beautiful panels. As the story heats up and Dancy’s furious angel rears her ugly heads, it becomes clear that “Alabaster: Wolves” is going to be a gorgeously odd mini-series with many layers to examine over and over again. I’d like to point to one panel in particular with Dancy and her fiery angel, but there are so many that stand out that it’s hard to pinpoint just one instance. The whole issue looks fantastic. However, there is one spread in which the albino huntress holds a bloody knife and it honestly made my jaw drop because of how elegant it was. Steve Lieber does a commendable job, and he’s equally responsible for the high quality of this book.
There are plenty of subtleties in the art as well aside from the flashy panels. The dark haired woman slowly transforms into a horrible beast throughout the pages, and when you finally realize what she is, you’ll find yourself saying, “Holy crap, werewolves are cool!” Something you probably haven’t said in a long time.
The book gives off a fairytale vibe with an adult twist for the contemporary world. The style is reminiscent Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, and even evokes some Stephen King. It’s clear that Kiernan has the chops, and I sincerely hope we start to see more of her in the comics industry. “Alabster: Wolves” #1 is a perfect introductory issue. It’s hard to get a sense for where the book will go from here, but I can’t wait to further explore this wonderful world. “Alabaster: Wolves” is everything you could ever want from a fantasy horror story.