Matt Johnson

Alabaster: The Good, The Bad, And The Bird (3 of 5) – Comic Review

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Alabaster: TGTBTB continues to bring this heavy, weird, pastoral tale toward it’s likely unhappy conclusion.  All the pieces are nearly in place now.  Hang on tight for the rest of the ride.

See my previous Alabaster review here.



Alabaster:  The Good, the Bad, And the Bird (3 of 5)
Writer: Caitlin R. Kiernan
Artist: Daniel Warren Johnson
Cover Artist: Greg Ruth
Publisher: Dark Horse
February 10 2016

Have Alabaster: The Good, the Bad, and the Bird #3 delivered right to your house!

Alabaster 3 begins in the familiar swampy forest backdrop of previous issues.  We open on two characters performing a ritual, calling upon the black goat of the woods with fire, a runic knife, and a skeleton-figure that appears almost wooden.  They are interrupted by a pack of demonic creatures that look like fleshy versions of Zuul and Vinz Clortho; all teeth and sinew..and blood…lots of blood.  With the blood comes some of the gnarly gore I’ve really been enjoying in this series.  One pane in particular made me make the pleased “oooh” face that a good gratuitously overdone kill-scene always evokes in me.

The two make haste to leave the area, now on fire, and head off not to be seen for the rest of the issue – and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how absolutely gorgeous the fire is rendered here.  It fills at least some of the page in almost half the story and is, I think, the highlight so far of the art I’ve seen presented in Alabaster.

Once the two are gone, a figure emerges from the earth.  It is Dancy, the girl from issue #1.  She’s come back to life and wanders through the blazing forest, naked, mud-covered, killing gators, as tends to happen in that kind of situation.  She finally finds a road and is picked up by a seemingly well-intentioned family in an old truck.  Once inside she quickly learns of a menacing-sounding existing connection to them.  They also begin looking slightly more warped and demonic as the ride progresses.  They are taking her to someone who has demanded her presence and she has no choice but to ride along.  The conversation here drives the story and is completely natural and yet somehow still as stylized as the rest of the series.  We the observers are made privy to some pretty ominous banter and end the scene with Dancy standing in front of a darkened house.  Interestingly enough, after the forced journey, here the driver departs telling her whether she goes in or wanders “off into the pitchy night” it’s her call.  There are a few more surprisingly tender frames that follow and we end on a startlingly uplifting feeling note.

The first thing you notice about the third issue of Alabaster is that everything has gone dark.  There are still a lot of earthy tones throughout, but up until the last two pages there isn’t a single bright backdrop…or fore, for that matter.  The second thing you’ll notice is that the frames of this issue are very tightly composed.  There’s a sense of discomfort driven heavily home by the fact that nearly every panel takes place in a small area, and is generally hewn in by tree-lines, cars, people with no apparent social bubbles, or the walls of a small room.  Our characters really have nowhere to roam or run to, and as the story progresses you get a sense that there’s no real exit for any of them, much as they may want one.  Everyone is fully vested now and all the players have come to realize that, while they can still fight for the outcome they desire, escape is no longer an option.

Because of this each of the characters have a bit of extra grimness not found in the prior issues.  The struggle feels heavy and each pane sees them trudging at a very metered pace.  This is not a bad thing by any means.  Now that we’re at the mid-point of this bizarre saga we need a chance to nudge the story to a breaking point, but not blow the wad too early.  Though it’s characters seem to be wading through molasses, Alabaster #3 handles this from a reader-perspective with ease.  Kiernan’s pacing is effortless, dead-on with where it needs to be, and Johnson continues to deliver beautiful and semi-abstract scenes that fill in the gaps between words.  Interestingly enough, there were a few panes where the art, while not changing completely, had some subtle elements seemingly borrowed from Anime styling.  The cover art remains immaculate this time around as well, and the teaser for issue #4’s cover is my favorite of the series thus far.

Kiernan and Johnson are still killing with this story.  I’m fully hooked and I wish I didn’t have to wait more weeks to see where this ends.  Then again, when it ends, I’m going to be pretty sad it’s over.

My recommendations from my review of Issue #2 still stand for this review as well.  If you like this, you’ll LOVE the Preacher, RUMBLE, and most likely The Maxx as well.  Incidentally, I recently noticed that The Maxx is being reprinted issue by issue.  If you missed it the first go-round forever ago, now’s your chance to enjoy it episodically like the rest of us old folk did way back in the day.

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