The town is a prison in Stillwater #4 ADVANCE REVIEW

Written: Chip Zdarsky, Illustrated: Ramon K Perez, Colours: Mike Spicer, Lettering: Rus Wooton.

It’s 1986, and Laura has just figured out that things are not normal, after cutting her finger and it sealing back up straight away. The townsfolk are ruffled, and the mayor can’t seem to articulate the situation to people to help calm them down. Lucky for them the judge is there to help. Implementing a strict border so no one can come in or out of the town until they can get a handle on the situation, maintaining this will be a temporary thing.

It’s now 1990, and the town is still under tight lockdown. The Sherry has some issues and feels that the laws need to be amended while Laura now worries that Tommy is trapped, he’s a 5-year-older trapped in the body of an 18-month-old. Laura and the sheriff along with the other townsfolk want to help him. But the judge has become used to being the undisputed ruler, is there anything he won't do to stop any kind of insurrection within his midst?

The majority of this book takes place in the past. We only have 3 pages from the present, which may make this feel like a slow issue to many people, as there’s not much action, but this was a necessary thing. We needed to be taken back to when this “gift” was first discovered and see how there was only one person to step up and help calm people by putting in measures to maintain safety. As the saying goes, "power corrupts" and this is fully on display here. The judge very quickly takes over and becomes ruler of the town, becoming even more powerful than the mayor, making that title and job utterly inconsequential. We also get to see how very quickly people look upon this “gift” as a sentence, and the town as their prison. This is seen through Tommy. In general the idea of not growing old in body sounds fantastic, however not so much if you are in the body of a child yet your mind develops as normal. You would find yourself severely limited by what you could do and how you could act around people. This angle adds a new dimension to the curse that very few people would have thought about.

Zdarsky’s writing has been great throughout the book, this series proves to me that he’s not only good at setting a scene and creating a well driven story, but in this issue he’s able to craft interesting back stories and give the history in a well structured way that other creators would just dump all this information into us before progressing the story in the present. This issue really does push the boundaries of what people would do to help the ones they love, in this case with Laura wanting to help her son Tommy by sending him away so he doesn’t become trapped in a baby's body. We also are challenged to consider how we would be different given the situation of the judge. Would we become a tyrant like the judge becomes or would we see a different way to protect the town. As with some dictators, it starts with the greater good or for the safety of the people. What would we do differently given the unique situation he has found himself in?

This book continues to be a favourite of mine, and this issue has me questioning lots, not just the way the story could play out, but moral questions of power and decency vs the struggle to help people and the ones we love. I found myself contemplating these ideas, which for me is the sign of a good comic book writer. If you make the reader question their own ideas, then I believe you’ve done something right.

The artwork by Perez and Spicer has been as consistent as the writing. They have found a way to distinguish the years and decades through art style and colour without the reader having to look at clothing choices as a clue. The '80s aspect was very bright and colourful, the '90s has a more muted palette then you see in the present, which is more defined (like it’s in HD). These subtle changes really help set the scene and create a slightly suspenseful element to the book.

Overall this series has been a great read, and I look forward to the next installment each month. There is one thing that I would say could have made a difference. As these people never age from the '80s to today, there are no changes on their face or weathered aspect to their bodies. With that in mind, I think it would have been interesting to use shadows more or even use camera angles or enhanced emotions to show how characters evolve through the years. For example, the judge starting off normal but developing much sterner emotions or using low angles to enhance his dominating approach to the town. This would show the change in a physical way. Other than that, which is only a tiny issue that is probably just a personal one, I cannot recommend this series enough.

Stillwater issue #4 will be released on December 16th from your local comic shop as well as comixology

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