Read This Book: The Existential Horror Of ‘Stillwater’ And The Murderous Fun Of ‘Heavy’

I don’t know about you, but I love a good crazy comic. Give me a trippy, bizarre, mind bending book and I am a happy boy. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a good old fashioned superhero beat-em-up from time to time, but in my heart of hearts I just love comics that really play with what the medium can do, and a comic that really pushes the envelope on bizarreness will always be first on my reading list.

Which is why this week was so good for me, because we got not one, but two awesomely bizarre comics from stellar creative teams. In fact, I originally was only going to write about one of these booke, but I couldn’t figure out which I wanted to write about more. And then I figured what the heck! I’ll hype up both.

First up, and new ongoing from Image Comics: Stillwater.

Here’s the blurb:

Nobody dies. In the town of Stillwater, that’s not just a promise. It’s a threat. Join superstar writer CHIP ZDARSKY (THE WHITE TREES, Daredevil) and Eisner Award-winning artist RAMÓN K PÉREZ (Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand, Jane) as they dive into a world of horror and intrigue in this new ongoing Skybound series

Zdarsky has a pretty hefty resume of mind-bending comics already to his name, including the outstanding Sex Criminals series, so the thought of him on a new horror comic was very exciting. When it comes to playing with tropes, and subverting expectations, few authors can compare, and this first issue did not disappoint in either regard.

The story opens with our protagonist Daniel West, a brilliant man with serious anger issues. After getting fired for shoving a co-worker, and getting trounced on by a number of inebriated bar patrons (and one very grumpy bouncer) Daniel receives a mysterious summons to a town he’s never heard of where he’s promised an inheritance from a relative he doesn’t remember ever hearing about.

Setting out for the town of Stillwater, which no one outside of the town has ever heard of, with his buddy, things quickly take a turn for the bizarre. In addition to Stillwater having no signs, street or otherwise, everyone in the town seems oddly secretive and bizarrely disconnected. But when a child faceplants off a 4 story building, then snaps back to life in perfect health after a few minutes, no one but Daniel and his friend seem surprised.

What follows is the start of a bizarre mystery involving Daniel’s past, and those who will kill to keep it secret.

I have to say, I am all in on Stillwater. Creepy, violent, and full of that good old-fashioned existential dread the kids are all talking about! I blew through Stillwater and then did something I rarely do: immediately reread it from the start. From the storytelling to the fantastic artwork by Perez, this book is definitely going to be a must read. Do yourself a favor and grab issue one while you can, because I have a feeling Stillwater is going to heat up quick and will be hard to find in the back issue bin.

You’d think I’d be satisfied after that lovely dose of quality horror and dread, but after finishing Stillwater I grabbed my second indie pick for this week, Heavy from Vault Comics, and I knew this book deserved just as much hype and praise.

Here’s the blurb:

Bill may be dead, but he’s got a job to do. Welcome to the Big Wait, where folks who don’t quite make the cut go to work off their debt. Everyone in the Wait’s got a job. Bill is a Heavy, whose job is policing the multiverse, making sure bad eggs get what’s coming to them. He’s on track to earn his Climb and reunite with the woman he loves…until he meets his new partner: the worst dude of all time. Heavy is The Punisher for neurotics; Inception for the impatient; Preacher for…well, it’s a lot like Preacher. Max Bemis (Moon Knight, Centipede, X-Men: Worst X-Man Ever) and Eryk Donavan (Memetic, Ghost of Ohio) bring you a story about the existential purpose of dumb boys with big guns.

Good lord was this book fun. If you’ve been reading Ludocrats (and you should be because I told you to weeks ago!) and thought “what if this involved time travel and evil, parallel universe versions of historical characters?” then buddy do I have a book for you.

Heavy is absolutely bonkers and honestly has absolutely no business being as good as it is. The premise is insane and just should not work! It has so many disparate elements crammed together that this should have gone down in flames as a completely muddled mess, and yet, AND YET!!!! somehow Heavy works. Not only works, but succeeds where lesser books with less crazy premises have tried and failed.

Our “hero” Bill is not a bad dude, but he is also not a good dude, so he ends up in Purgatory (known as The Big Wait) in order to get into Heaven, and be reunited with his lost love. While there he has to “police” the multiverse, which means when evil parallel earths branch off from our own, Bill has to go into them and set things right, usually by murdering the every loving hell out of a lot of people.

The problem is, while he’s very good at his job, he’s just not racking up the points like he should be, so he agrees to take on a partner to help him. Double the work, double the points, or at least that’s what he is promised. The problem is that once he agrees to take on a partner he is not only unable to reject who he is partnered with, he also is responsible for their safety. Anyone who leaves the Big Wait on a mission and gets killed simply ceases to be, no afterlife but oblivion.  

I won’t spoil who is partner is, but you’ll probably be able to figure it out for yourself as you read. Even knowing how it’s going to turn out, the ending of issue one still hits like a gut punch and sets this crazy series on track for an even wilder issue two.

Both Stillwater and Heavy get strong recommendations, and really, more comics like this should be willing to take crazy risks. Like I said at the start, comics need to be fun and wild and do something different more often to justify their existence as a medium. I love Batman, but as I have said before, you can only watch him fight and defeat the Joker so many times before it just feels like the same white noise over and over again. Creators need to be allowed to take more risks, and if the big two won’t. or can’t, let them, them hopefully we’ll see more and more make the switch to the indie market.

I know I’ll be looking forward to reading those books.

Until next time friends, stay safe and healthy!

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