We are our own devils; we drive ourselves out of our Edens. But is it good?
Alabaster: The Good, The Bad, and the Bird #1 (Dark Horse Comics)
Written by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Art by Daniel Warren Johnson
Colored by Carlos Badilla
Cover by Greg Ruth
Release date: December 9th
I have not read anything in the way of the previous Alabaster series, but it had a certain look and appeal to it that I always thought I might enjoy it. Alabaster: The Good, The Bad, and The Bird welcomes artist Daniel Warren Johnson to the team and this felt like a good time to try to series out. As a huge fan of Johnson’s work on Space-Mullet and Ghost Fleet, this is an instance of an artist selling me on a book. With that out of the way I will take a look at the book with the understanding I am coming in to a large story, but as a new reader, does it work as a single issue?
The story jumps back and forth at a rapid pace between Dancy and a deal between deranged twins and the bailiff. This can be at times jarring as each plot line is vastly different in its appearance, tone and writing style. However, because of the frequent and sharp jumps the story feels energetic and well paced. The scenes with Dancy are heavy with an abstract poetic nature to the dialog. “If nature abhors a void, hell abhors existence.” Even unfamiliar with Dancy’s history Kiernan is able to convey the weight of the struggle and anguish of these moments. The narrative and dialog always feels well thought out and at times takes an interesting biblical tone.
In contrast, the moments with the bailiff and twins feels far more grounded. Well, as grounded as two psychopaths with cartoon animal masks can feel. The tone set here is that of a gritty horror film. The twins are brash and rude while the bailiff is calm and menacing.The dialog feels natural in an unnatural sense. It’s easy to picture the cadence of the twins, as it’s schizophrenic and paranoid. While the two elements are telling two different narratives the transitions blend and merge the stories. It’s clear going forward by the end of the issue how the two will connect, even as disconnected they are in their current states. There is time paid to develop some of the story for new readers or catch up old. Kiernan is able to work in elements of backstory or references here and there. This helped to connect a few of the dots as the story progressed.
Just like the dialog and narrative, the change in plot lines allows Johnson to tackle some very different and wonderful things in the issue. The moments with Dancy go from spacious, simplistic and lonely to evolving into the issue’s more violent and graphic scenes. The change plays well to the struggle and Johnson is able to convey the abstract nature of this setting well. The majority of the scenes involving the twins and bailiff depict the deal that is taking place and because of this there’s a lot of these three characters sitting and talking. Johnson is able to keep these scenes interesting by continuing to move the focus of the panels and angles at which the contents are viewed. Johnson also plays heavily with shadows which gives an added level of tension and gloom to these scenes.
Is It Good>
Alabaster: The Good, The Bad and The Bird juggles a dual narrative that could be difficult for new readers, but it clearly builds upon open previous plot lines and does a nice job on wrapping in new interesting antagonists. As a new reader it was clear some things were beyond my grasp but once I understood that, The Good, The Bad, and The Bird was an enjoyable read that I found myself actively engaged in. The look and tone of the book can carry the sometimes inclusive nature of the story for new readers. It always feels decisive in the choices it makes, which may allow patient new readers to trust in Kiernan’s storytelling ability. Johnson shines with some wonderful scenes and an ability to provide extra grit and tension to the issue. Anyone willing to take a chance with a little bit of patience my find themselves a new pull for their list. I can’t vouch for returning fans but there’s way more good than bad (or birds for that matter. I counted two vultures for the record).