By Dustin Cabeal
I’m not a huge fan of era stories that in a way add modern genres to the twist. For instance a western that adds forensic science to the story. There’s a little of that in the first volume of Stern, but thankfully it ends up making a lot of sense to the story.
The story takes place sometime after the Civil War in Kansas. Stern, the title character, is the town’s undertaker. He’s called in for a body, and thus the story begins. We see the interesting dynamic of the town as more and more of the story unfolds. The dead man continues to be at the center of it all as the man’s wife asks Stern to perform an autopsy on the body. She wants his organs to show people the horrors of drinking and what it does to the body. What Stern finds instead is that the dead man was murdered.
Stern is an interesting character. He’s haunted by past which is brilliantly teased throughout the story. In many ways, it’s about his past coming to haunt him in the present. Perhaps the best scene was between Stern, the drunk friend of the dead man and the dead man’s brother-in-law; the three talk poetry and literature. Not only is it uncommon for the era, but it’s equally strange in that all three men come from different walks of lives.
The mystery of the story wasn’t terribly complicated to figure out, but how everything fit together and played out was still very interesting. As I said, the story may follow Stern and others in the present, but it is a conclusion of something from his past. It’s layered wonderfully.
The art is beautiful. It’s very detailed, lively and captures the essence of the story. The scene with the three men discussing literature is only more amazing when you see the artwork because behind this intellectual conversation is a bar brawl. The backgrounds are rich and detailed giving the story an animated feel. I could almost see the images moving around or even being animated one day it was just that detailed. The design too was easy to imagine as an animation with its 360 views of different locations. The coloring brings it all to life. It’s not that it was flat or vibrant, but it was the perfect fit as it made the story look realistic. The lighting effects, in particular, amplify the realism of the coloring.
This first volume of Stern sets up more story to come. It’s established the main character, supporting characters and future challenges for him. I would be very interested in seeing what comes next for the story. How can Stern grow and change, but remain interesting? I hope to read those answers.
Stern vol. 1
Writer: Frédéric Maffre
Artist/Colorist: Julien Maffre
Publisher: Europe Comics