Matt Johnson

Alabaster: The Good, The Bad, And The Bird (2 of 5) – Comic Review

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Alabaster returns with it’s own unique blend of well-crafted weirdness in issue 2 of 5.  Things remain nebulous story-wise but some heavily ominous overtones hint at good (for us, not necessarily for the characters) things to come in this beautifully put together series.



Alabaster:  The Good, the Bad, And the Bird (2 of 5)
Writer: Caitlin R. Kiernan
Artist: Daniel Warren Johnson
Cover Artist: Greg Ruth
Publisher: Dark Horse
January 2016

Have Alabaster: The Good, the Bad, and the Bird #2 sent right to your doorstep, keep that sunlight exposure short!

Full disclosure:  When I started reading this run of Alabaster, I was unaware this was a continuation of previously existing stories and characters.  This could explain my general impression of ‘weirdness’ in the story.  Then again, I get the feeling this is a cultivated thing and that I’d probably feel the same even with more backstory.  Either way, I’ve loved every panel of this series.  It appeals, on a primal level, to the guy (me) who threw on a mix of Blood Flowers, Starfish, and the new Bowie album to help set the mood for reading and writing some comic reviews.  On that note, when I finished the issue, I noticed Kiernan had commented that it was written while listening to Singing Bones, by The Handsome Family.  I feel like this would be an absolutely appropriate reading accompaniment as well, if your tastes allow the genre.

Alabaster: The Good, the Bad, and the Bird (hereby referred to as Alabaster) opens in a Selma, Alabama cemetery, with skewed headstones, hanging vines and ancient trees providing framing and backdrop as Masie, one of the series protagonists, converses with a blackbird.  She’s drawn fairly plain, in clothes fitting the southern backdrop; a cigarette punctuating her words.  The two talk as Masie walks toward a distant funeral.  We learn that Masie is tormented by nightmares and by experiences from issue 1 and that the bird is a sort of nihilistic voice of reason/friend to her. The dialogue and art flow beautifully here, with the walk letting Daniel Warren Johnson continue to set a pace and mood that carries through the whole series.  Johnson’s dialogue is crisp and straightforward.  It says what it needs in an artistic way, but with a paucity of words that only serves to add to the completeness of the fictional world we’re walking through.  The chapter ends with Masie approaching the departing funeral-goers, bird on shoulder, and handing them a card advertising “AFTER DEATH COMMUNICATION by APPT ONLY” in a moment that couldn’t help but remind me of The Frighteners a bit, which is never a bad thing.

The story follows a raven to a mobile home.  Inside are two women in bed, naked, covered in blood, surrounded by the skulls of various creatures, and a sacrificed dog or wolf at their feet.  The color palette shifts from the greens and browns of the swamp cemetery to reds and oranges; blood and fire.  The two converse about dreams and about their plan for what we can only assume is our protagonist.  The panes are gorgeously done, with heavy shadow and lighting looking as though the entire world was aflame outside the walls of the mobile home.  I need to mention something here, because I mentioned two women in bed, naked.  Nudity is somewhat common so far in this series, but it never feels thrown in for the hell of it.  It’s there because, in the real world, sometimes people don’t wear clothes.  Simple as that.

We return to Masie, now clad in black mourning attire.  She enters the home of the mourner from the funeral earlier and settles in to perform a farce of a séance, with her bird-friend providing the voice of the departed.  As the séance begins to gain momentum a cat disrupts the scene and exposes the bird.  The two are forced to hit the road.  The dialogue here between Masie and bird really plays well.  It’s clever and funny, and very…”human”.  As they wander, the eye of the viewer carries back to the mobile home.  The two women are asleep, but not alone.  Something ominous lurks outside and we close on an ugly threat about to strike.  As always, we’re left wanting for more, soon to come.

Alabaster is a darkly gothic/pastoral series that wears its influences and feelings heavily, but not heavy-handedly.  The art is killer and works as a perfect vehicle for Kiernan’s tale.  The story and characters are intriguing and captured my interest enough that I’ll be tracking the previous stories set in this world as well.  If there’s enough interest, maybe I’ll do an extremely late review of them.  I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the cover art.  It’s far more gorgeous than any cover art needs to be.  Greg Ruth draws you in immediately with muted palette and imagery that is intense and haunting.  The preview for Issue 3 keeps with this theme as well.  Each one would easily be good enough to put on display on a wall.

Alabaster: TGTBTB really stands as its own beast.  The only things that springs to mind to recommend as remotely similar would be The Preacher series – one of my all time favorites, RUMBLE, and maybe a little bit of The Maxx.  Read my RUMBLE review here.

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