Thursday, December 17, 2020

Stillwater #4 Review


Would you sacrifice freedom for safety?

Written By: Chip Zdarsky
Art By: Ramón K. Perez
Colors By: Mike Spicer
Lettering By: Rus Wooton
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: December 16, 2020

Review by: Gabriel Hernandez

Long Story Short

Laura recounts the history of Stillwater from the very first time they discovered they were immortal in 1986 to the present day. The townspeople quickly devolve from confusion and uncertainty to fear. The mayor proves he’s not the man to lead Stillwater through this crisis, and the Judge steps in to “temporarily” institute martial law. As the years pass, it becomes clear the citizens of Stillwater have exchanged safety for freedom, and Laura executes a plan to save her son from growing old in a toddler’s body.

Was It Good?

The execution was great. The concept? Not so much.

If you’ve followed the series since the beginning, you know there are two unanswered questions that hover over the entire story.

What is the source of instant healing and immortality for anyone within the borders of Stillwater?
Why have the residents completely cut themselves off from the outside world instead of seeking help?

This issue finally answers question #2, and the answer doesn’t quite work.

We start with a flashback to 1986 where Laura is getting 18-month-old Tommy (aka Daniel) ready to go out. While preparing a snack, Laura cuts her finger, but before she has a chance to clean it, the wound heals. This is a very clean and clear start point for the magic that befalls Stillwater. It’s simple and makes the point with brilliant efficiency.

Flash forward a few days (weeks?) and the townspeople have assembled for a meeting to collectively confirm what’s happening and hear what the mayor intends to do. The mayor zones out during his speech, and the judge steps in to take over. It’s at this point that Zdarsky establishes the judge as the town’s true authority. 

The judge wastes no time in declaring a “temporary” law prohibiting anyone from leaving the town or making any contact with the outside world. The justification for such draconian measures is the fear that the government will come in and turn the townspeople into lab rats while searching for the cause. Borders are patrolled. Communications are monitored, including mundane items like birthday cards. 

it’s at this point where Zdarsky loses believability for the story. The idea that townspeople would willingly cut themselves off from relatives, loved ones, or any contact from the outside world without a say in the matter doesn’t ring true. It would be different if there was a town vote and the citizens volunteered to cut themselves off, but you never see anything more than the judge waving his hand in proclamation and making it so.
I avoid bringing the real world into comics reviews whenever possible, but the parallels to Stillwater’s isolation and the COVID-19 lockdowns are unmistakable. We see first hand where a physical quarantine leads to protests and unrest in a matter of months, and that’s with virtual contact. Now, put that lockdown on a town full of people with no virtual communication of any kind. Not even so much as a phone call. And it just doesn’t hold up as believable. Folks would go stir crazy and revolt, and so the idea of folks locking themselves down for 35-ish years with no real stakes in enforcement seems like too much suspension of disbelief to ask for.

A few years into the lockdown and we learn a key piece of information - Stillwater prevents aging in children as well as adults. Tommy maintains a toddler’s body but he’s matured, in mind and speech, to a 5-year-old. Laura realizes that the prospect of her son becoming an adult trapped in a toddler’s body would be cruel torture, so she hatches a plan to fake Tommy’s death while a few of her sympathizers smuggle him out of town.

The plan works and Tommy lives the rest of his life to this point as Daniel, retaining no real memory of Stillwater or the events that lead to his relocation to the outside world. We end the issue back in the here and now with Laura explaining that he can’t leave now that he knows the truth, but the town will try to make his stay more comfortable.

Perez’s art is consistently good throughout the issue. The oddly pliable faces from the previous issues are less noticeable here, and that works to convey emotion much better. Spicer’s coloring makes great use of a yellowed filter to give the flashbacks, which take up most of the issue, a weathered look. And Wooton’s lettering punctuates just the right words with bold to emphasize the dialog-heavy issue in the right spots for maximum effect.

Bits and Pieces:

Stillwater #4, available from Image Comics on December 16th, is a well-acted, well-drawn, well-dialogued issue, but the big answer to one of the key questions of the series strains credibility. It’s difficult to get excited about what happens next when you can’t buy how the characters got here in the first place.


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