Right off the bat, I'll cop to the fact that I'm not a huge fantasy guy. I like Lord of the Rings and Shakespeare well enough, I have an on-again, off-again relationship with Dungeons and Dragons, and I enjoy swordfights and what-not, but it has never been my particular brand of nerdery. I generally lean more sci-fi than fantasy, because I like space a lot. However, something caught my attention when I was perusing the indie shelves at my local comic book vendor and I saw Alabaster: Wolves #1. It looked very fantastical on the cover, but the inside looked modern on a flip-through, and I impulse-bought it. Now, I'm glad I did.
It turns out that writer Caitlin R. Kiernan has imported the lead character in her book Alabaster (which is an unassailably cool word), one who first appeared in a 2001 novel called Threshold, into the Dark Horse Comics world, but you don't really need to know any of that to enjoy this first issue. We open on a 16-year-old albino girl wandering through what looks to be Post-Apocalyptic Hellscape, South Carolina, although it might just be a crappy neighborhood where nobody lives anymore. Nobody but smart-alecky talking blackbirds and dirty-footed smarmy werewolf ladies, apparently, who feel the need to give her crap while she's quietly waiting for a bus that likely won't ever come.
By the way, her name is Dancy Flammarion.
Yes, there was a French author by the name of Camille Flammarion once, but that feels like such a pompous made-up fantasy name that I was bracing myself to switch over to derision-mode at the sight of it. It's one of my irrational peeves – I'm a fan of goofy made-up names, but when they reek of pretension, I get twitchy. However, Kiernan pretty well undercuts any notions to that effect by making Dancy a plain-spoken 'ain't no saint' kinda gal, resigned to and pretty matter-of-fact about her lot in life as a monster-slayer in service of some freaky multi-headed flaming-sword wielding angel that apparently refuses to do her own dirty work. It's hard not to like Dancy, and thus Kiernan kept my cynical side from kicking in to make with all the scorntastic apathy to which I'm sometimes prone.
Alabaster: Wolves #1 is basically a long conversation, an extended back-and-forth between a playfully wicked werewolf lady making sport out of her intention to eventually eat our Joan-of-Arc hero, and Dancy tryin to make a deal with her, since the wolf-woman is somehow carrying a cigar box full of old junk from Dancy's childhood. Junk she wants back, since it's from the before-time, the long, long ago. So they settle on a riddle contest, one that pisses off Dancy's patron angel since she swears on its name that she won't put up a fight on being eaten if she loses. She's trying to force that angel (who looks mostly like a demon) to get involved directly, but turns out she's gotta go back on her sworn word, and it seems like the price of that was getting abandoned by her angel. May or may not be for the better, but Dancy sure don't feel no better off.
There's a real emotional weight to Kiernan's story, especially in the full-page panel where Dancy's shaking in the face of her angel's impending wrath, saying "send me to hell right now, if that's what I got comin'." The art from Steve Lieber is pretty solid throughout, although his action sequences feel too static. The bulk of it, however, is just conversation, and he does a lot of interesting things with minor details and quiet expressions – things which get notable help from colorist Rachelle Rosenberg.
Overall, it's a really good beginning – one that can probably be ascribed to an author adapting her own work to a different medium, knowing how to get the essentials out there to keep readers hooked. Alabaster: Wolves is a five issue series, likely adapting each one of the short stories in the original book. Hopefully, they hang well together as one full tale, and even if they don't, well, Dancy's had her one chance, and she certainly didn't let us down.