Review: Wytches Vol. 1
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jock
Review by Patrick Brennan
“Pledged is pledged.”
Witches (of the Satan-loving, child-sacrificing, chaos-causing variety) have been enjoying a wave of popularity in the horror genre these last few years, thanks to the recent depictions seen on both the small and silver screen. American Horror Story: Coven, Rob Zombie’s Lords of Salem, and the latest season of Penny Dreadful have all done their best to restore witches to their terrifying former selves, distancing them from the biteless versions that became the trend in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Joining this renaissance of depravity comes the comic series Wytches, which boldly blazes a new horrific mythology for the title villains.
Reuniting the kick-ass creative team of Scott Snyder and Jock (Batman: The Black Mirror), Wytches follows Sailor Rooks, a young girl who moves with her family to a small town in New Hampshire in an attempt to escape a dark past. Unfortunately for them, that creeping darkness is not so easy to escape. Sailor has been pledged to the wytches; an ancient race of abominations that lurk in the black regions of humanity. Always watching, forever hungry, and possessed with corrupting powers and the frightful determination to cause pain. Can Sailor escape their terrible grasp, or will she be dragged underground to suffer the fate of so many before her?
When it comes to pure spellbinding, edge of your seat storytelling, horror is definitely Scott Snyder’s sweet-spot. Whether it’s his early work with Scott Tuft on the terrifying coming-of-age story Severed, his monster epics like American Vampire and the fantastic miniseries The Wake, or his solid short-story anthology Voodoo Heart, some of his best work has blossomed from the genre’s inky depths. What makes all of these stories so effective is Snyder’s balancing of heart and horror.
Like his friend and one-time collaborator Stephen King, he understands that one of the best ways to make a horror tale all the more effective is to lay down the emotional groundwork that’s needed to make the story’s characters three-dimensional. Relatability is key; if you don’t give a shit about the people you’re reading about or can’t empathize with their lives in some way, then why should you find anything in whatever nightmare they’re enduring scary?
In Wytches, we find a strong emotional core for the story in the form of the relationship between Sailor and her dad, Charlie. Motivated by feelings of guilt due to his previous struggles with alcohol, Charlie is a guy who is trying his best to make up for his past shitty parenting. Sailor understands this but is wrestling with resentment towards her father, not to mention her own problems in the form of her deep-seeded anxiety issues. Together, these dynamics make for a wholly believable father-daughter relationship, one lacking the clichéd tendencies we so often see. They also illustrate the main theme of Wytches, which is the facing of one’s inner demons and the ability in each of us to achieve our own redemption.
Wytches is not without a few warts (please don’t hit me), mostly in the way of its pacing. There are times when you get the sense that more time has passed than what’s been represented; we’re made to understand that the wytches have been breaking down Sailor’s already fragile psyche over the course of a few weeks but we barely see any instances of it other than the initial attacks. The same goes for the crumbling of the Rooks family itself. Obviously they’re in rebuild mode already when we first meet them, but it feels like they go from bright and cheery to the verge of shattering altogether in the span of a couple pages.
Whatever problems Wytches suffers from are barely visible, though, thanks to the overall strength of the world Snyder and Jock create. Their take on the title villain keeps them rooted in some of the iconic symbols of the witch’s mythology (the cauldron, the cooking and eating of children) while also taking them into a territory that is wholly unique. Wytches are less the classical “Devil’s bride” and more a terrible side-evolution of humanity. They “formed apart from us, in the ground” says one character, describing them as abominations that represent the very worst of humanity’s mindless cruelty and selfishness. They’re cunning predators who know the dark regions of a man or woman’s soul, and are masterful in their ability to manipulate that dark side for their own gains.
Illustrating these monstrosities beautifully is Jock’s artwork, the perfect backdrop to Snyder’s dark narrative. In its creepiest moments, there is a primal feel to his work, a seamless representation of the ancient animalistic beasts we meet in the series. He also captures the softer moments wonderfully, giving Wytches’ quieter moments a level of tender realism that other artists might have missed. Overall, it is a joy to watch him and Snyder work together, because they represent the potential for great storytelling that comics have.
Featuring terrifying visuals and an engrossing story that’s equal parts touching and horrifying, volume one of Wytches is a solid and ambitious beginning to a horror series all fright fans should sink their teeth into.