Caitlín R. Kiernan’s Alabaster: Wolves is the first volume in her graphic novel series about teenaged albino monster hunter Dancy Flammarion, who is a recurring character in Kiernan’s short stories and novels. Dancy is haunted by a terrifying figure she believes to be an angel and who directs her to kill the monsters she encounters in her travels through the Deep South. In this narrative, Dancy encounters a werewolf named Maisie in an abandoned South Carolina town. After Dancy kills Maisie, the angel abandons her, forcing Dancy to face the Lovecraftian horrors in the town all by herself.
This graphic novel can be read a couple of different ways. The first is to view it as a straightforward supernatural action narrative in which determined Dancy drifts into the unnamed ghost town and exterminates the monsters who’ve taken it over, enlisting the help of a talking blackbird and Maisie’s ghost along the way. In this reading, she’s a heroic, driven loner like Stephen King's Roland Deschain or Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane.
But beneath that straightforward reading I saw a metaphor for the experience of queer youth raised in toxic fundamentalist Christian environments in America. Many of these youth grow up brainwashed into believing being queer is as sinful and monstrous as being any vampire or werewolf. And so in the name of being good Christians and escaping promised hellfire and damnation, some of them shove their true selves down as far as they can and do whatever they can to prove to the rest of the world that they’re arrow-straight, up to and including committing homophobic violence. They loudly try to purge the world of queerness in the name of God, all the while secretly despising themselves. Even if they later develop self-awareness and a change of heart, they can’t ever fully escape their religious trauma because the fundamentalism they grew up in is so pervasive.
Religion is treated as a horror in Alabaster: Wolves. The angel who orders Dancy on her monster hunts is terrifying: a towering, shrieking, bat-winged, four-headed monster brandishing a flaming sword. When the ruined church Dancy is fighting in catches fire, she at first thinks it’s her angel returning, and reveals that the angel’s fire and hellfire are essentially identical except that one is above and one is below (Kiernan 53).
Furthermore, every monster Dancy encounters -- from Maisie the werewolf to Maisie’s werewolf sire to Fortescue the werewolf master -- treats Dancy as one of their own kind. Her monstrosity is clear to them from a mile away, even if she is never willing to admit it to herself. Dancy resents the “dirty work” the angel puts her to, but after the angel abandons her, she weeps at her loss of status: “Before, before, there was the Seraph. Before, I was the Hand of God.” (Kiernan 87).
Later, the angel returns and Dancy, who’s been helped by Maisie’s ghost, rejects the seraph: “What you call a monster’s saved me twice already.” (Kiernan 110) But like any queer kid stuck in a conservative town, that moment of realization isn’t enough to save Dancy from having to battle demons.
Kiernan, Caitlyn R, Steve Lieber and Rachelle Rosenberg. Alabaster: Wolves. Milwaukie, Oregon: Dark Horse, 2013.