Advance Review: WYTCHES #1

WYTCHES_1_CoverWYTCHES #1
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jock
Published by Image Comics
Release Date: October 8, 2014

Witches, very simply, are women who don’t belong. No matter the mythology, no matter the historical context, two things are always true: they are necessarily apart; and they are women. Wytches, from dream team Scott Snyder and Jock, introduces us to a few women who don’t belong, while balancing a human story with a decidedly in-human one. A mix of psychological horror and monster-under-the-bed, the first issue is a gorgeous, relentless assault on the nerves. Best of all, it doesn’t just trade on the “startle”; it stays with you, so you feel the claws on the back of your neck well after you put it down.

The first thing about Wytches is that no other artists could tell this story. Jock is well known for his emotive, impressionist style. It lends itself very well to horror stories, where shadows breathe as much as the characters. Matt Hollingsworth’s colors take the story from just “dark and scary” to nightmarish, in a very New England “Dunwich Horror” sort of way – you can feel the unknown creep up on you, and it’s what you don’t see that makes you scream (the stuff you see will make you scream too).

This plays well into Scott Snyder’s writing style. He’s a writer that trusts the reader to fill in the blanks. It’s also clear that he trusts his artists to help him land many of his emotional punches. Word economy is a fantastic thing in horror; it lets the imagination loose, which is often more terrifying than any literal visual.

That said, Snyder, Jock, and Hollingsworth – with Clem Robins on letters – do show us something remarkably unsettling. My personal beef with a lot of what passes for horror these days is that the characters driving the story can feel paper thin – ultimately you are waiting for something bad to happen to them, which can create a sort of detachment. While Wytches leads with a brutal, terrifying promise (and I appreciate that directness), most of the first issue is spent making you care.

The Rook family is quirky, but relatable. Creative people with an off-beat, withdrawn teenage daughter who are resettling after an ugly episode in their old home. Sailor, our lead, is not presented as a magical girl, or an impossible girl, or whatever other trope is common when you have a young, female lead in a story with fantasy elements. She’s just a girl, with normal girl problems, and she’s incredibly easy to root for. I’m not sure how Jock perfected teenage awkwardness, but it’s not a stretch to see yourself – or even your own child – in Sailor. Which makes so much of what happens in the issue even more difficult to watch.

One of the book’s scariest moments comes not just from an instance of physical gore and violence (praise again to Jock for his less is more approach, and his mastery of the tight facial closeup), but from the emotional rawness of a confrontation that may trigger some uncomfortable emotional reactions even in the most seasoned horror readers. Again, the internal horror is so much worse than the monster itself.

The abrupt ending is one of the cruelest I’ve ever encountered reading comics, but it damn well guarantees that you will be back for the next issue. Whether it’s dread or excitement driving you, it’s unlikely you won’t wish issue 1 had just ONE more page. Wytches pulls you in, and doesn’t let you go, the way truly good nightmares should.

The Verdict: 10/10

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