Alabaster: Wolves #1

Written by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Art by Steve Lieber
32 pages, color
Published by Dark Horse

Alabaster: Wolves is a comic I’ve looked forward to ever since its announcement. It’s written by Caitlin R. Kiernan, who had a long run on The Dreaming and made the title her own, but who’s had a much bigger career as a writer of prose. It’s drawn by Steve Lieber, whose work on Whiteout made him a star in my eyes and who has produced numerous strong comics since then, too. And the idea of rebooting a character from Kiernan’s books and short stories, and taking her down a different road for a series of comics? Well, it sounded like a blast to me. And with this first issue, I feel like Alabaster: Wolves is already on a good path.

When Alabaster: Wolves #1 opens, we’re joining protagonist Dancy Flammarion in an adventure already in progress. Kiernan keeps you from being lost, though; there’s enough information in Dancy’s narration to get the general gist of her story. She’s on a journey where a four-faced angel is telling her to kill monsters, even as there’s just the hint of madness surrounding Dancy. This is, after all, a teenaged girl talking to a blackbird that claims to know all about Dancy’s past and the killings that she’s performed up until now. By the time Dancy’s being threatened by a werewolf (who has some of Dancy’s long-lost possessions) and the angel shows up, well, it’s hard to tell what’s in Dancy’s head and what’s in the real world. And that’s just the way it should be.

Kiernan’s provided multiple hooks in Alabaster: Wolves—Dancy’s mental health, the appearance and vanishing of the angel, the werewolf, the hints about what Dancy’s already done to get her to this point—in such a way that it’s hard to not want to know just what happens next. Kiernan and Lieber have created a rich world that you dive into within seconds, and it makes me want to know more about "the awful women in Savannah, the cannibals" or "them poor folks down in Waycross." And when things come to a head in the riddle contest, that’s the clincher. Dancy isn’t your ordinary protagonist, and it feels like Kiernan isn’t playing by the rules here. I like it.

Lieber’s art matches the mood that Kiernan’s script has created. It’s a rough-hewn and run down world, or at least the edges that Dancy lurks in. Reading Alabaster: Wolves, the first thing that jumps to mind is how well Lieber draws his characters’ body language. Watching the werewolf and Dancy first confront one another is a mixture of swagger and quiet confidence, each sizing up the other even as they put their best foot forward. Considering how much of Alabaster: Wolves #1 involves characters talking to one another, it’s a critical element to convey, and Lieber keeps it visually interesting with the slightly ragged edges and worn out feel. Even better, though, is the way that Lieber draws the fantastical elements like Dancy’s angel. With its four heads with differing expressions, or the ripped bat wings, it’s a creature out of nightmares rather than Heaven, and I love it.

Alabaster: Wolves #1 is a strong opening for this first Alabaster mini-series; hopefully it’s not going to the first of many. I’m already tempted to read the Alabaster short story collection that this is based on, but I’m going to hold off for now. I know they’re going down slightly different paths, but this first issue was enough fun that I’d like to have more surprises ahead. Dark fantasy and horror fans, do check this book out.

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