Brutal And Horrifying: An Advance Review Of Scott Snyder And Jock’s ‘Wytches’ #1
If you asked me who my favorite writers were in comics today, Scott Snyder's name would be right up there at the top of the list, but I'll be honest with you: That's entirely because of his work on Batman. There's very little of his work outside of my favorite superhero that I've read, including American Vampire -- and that alone is pretty weird when you consider that it's got Dracula in it, and he's a solid #2 on my personal list of the best bat-themed characters in fiction. As a result, I've ben looking forward to checking out some of his other work for a while, and Wytches, the new book coming out from Image, felt like a pretty good place to start trying.
It is, after all written by Snyder and drawn by his Batman: The Black Mirror collaborator Jock, and if there are two creators that I like enough to give a new book a try sight unseen, it's them. Having read the first issue, though, I can tell you that it is very good, but very, very dark.
One of the reasons I was so keen on checking out Wytches was that it serves as a reunion of the team behind Batman: The Black Mirror, the arc of Detective Comics during Dick Grayson's brief tenure as the Caped Crusader that catapulted Snyder to superhero fame and saw Jock taking a shot at drawing one of the moodiest takes on Gotham City that I think I've ever seen -- and I have seen a lot. But while that book had a strong undercurrent of darkness, particularly when the story shifted to focus on James Gordon Jr. (and artist Francesco Francavilla), it was still very much a superhero story, full of stuff like cybernetic legs, weird gadgetry and, most of all, an emphasis on hope.
That's one of the things that's reallly marked Snyder's tenure on Batman that I've definitely responded to as a fan. I've talked to him about it several times in interviews, how bright and hopeful it seems, meant to set it apart from other influential runs. And reading Wytches felt like I found out where all the darkness that hasn't been in Batman for the past three years ended up. It's all here in the first issue, condensed down into 28 brutal, horrifying pages.
Make no mistake, Wytches is a horror comic, and it ain't heckin' around in this first issue. Snyder and Jock go straight for the most horrifying and disturbing stuff that they can cram into the book to set the stage for what they have to come. I mean, this is a book that opens with a brutal, supernaturally charged murder on page three, and from there goes into the standard stuff, like creepy animals, to the genuinely upsetting, like the threat of sexual assault that comes in a flashback. To be perfectly frank, that's the sort of thing that generally makes me want to tap out of a comic as soon as it hits the page, but there's also no getting around that in terms of creating an atmosphere, it does eactly what the creators of the book are setting out to do. It's horrifying.
Also, there are... teeth, so I guess I'll be having that nightmare again tonight.
Story-wise -- and keeping things spoiler-free -- the first issue of Wytches kicks off with that ominous opening mentioned above in 1919, and then cuts to the present day for the meat of the tale. Our focus is on Sailor Rooks -- who I believe is one of the outer, outer senshi -- a young woman who has moved to a new town after a Very Bad Thing has happened. She has come to a new town so she won't have to deal with the shadows hanging over her, but, as you might expect, there are forces in play that can't be outrun that easily.
We're also introduced to her parents. Her father, Charles, is the creator of a series of young adult graphic novels, and as you might expect, that choice of occupation leads pretty directly to the feeling that this is another book where Snyder is building themes around his own fears, much like he has with his superhero work. There's a lot in there about feeling helpless about being unable to protect your children at all times and the intense fear that comes from the moment that you can't -- which, oddly enough given how different the books are, was also a pretty central theme of Snyder's Death of the Family. Here, though, it's magnified and the horror is less over-the-top and way more personal. So presumably, he's got that teeth thing going on too.
The star of the show, though, is undoubtedly Jock. I've been a fan of his work since The Losers and Green Arrow: Year One, both phenomenally underrated collaborations with writer Andy Diggle, and while his takes on spy action and superhero origins are certainly moody and drawn with an incredible knack for storytelling, but this is the first time I've seen him tackle full-on horror, and it's unsurprisingly a genre that he works with very well. Snyder's script for this issue has him tasked with drawing creepily violent (and violently creepy) deaths and claustrophobic body horror, but he also has to switch back and forth between that and the bright skies and emotional drama of Sailor's first day at school, and that's where he really excels, particularly with Matt Hollingsworth doing an amazing job coloring. One of the most impressive things, in fact, is when we see sketches from Charles's kids' book, and Jock draws them in a style that would be perfectly at home as a chapter break illustration in Harry Potter, but which still feels incredibly creepy in context. It's the facial expressions, the body language, and the way that things slowly and suddenly shift back into the realization that nothing in this world is ever going to be okay.
I can't imagine that this is a comic that's ever going to have a happy ending, but it is a pretty great read, particularly as we get into fall and my desire for creepy stories ramps up to the critical mass that it'll reach on Halloween.
Wytches #1 will be released on October 8 from Image Comics, with a final order cutoff next Monday.