Phillip Morgan ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Let’s make this absolutely clear upfront: Wytches is scary, and not the “I almost Instagrammed that embarrassing photo of Kendall and me from the Christmas Party, when we got blackout drunk and attempted 80s Karaoke” type of scary. No, this story has more of a “receiving a package containing three of your lover’s fingers from their kidnappers in the Alaskan Wilderness” kind of vibe, so if this particular breed of terror is too much for you to handle, you need to burn this book and run. Now.*
For everyone else, Wytches’ writer Scott Snyder is hardly an unknown in the comics community. He was the writer and co-creator of the incredible American Vampire series for Vertigo Comics, along with being widely considered one of the best contemporary writers Batman has ever had. Snyder has grown into a creative force of nature, with followers so devout they’re willing to let him kill off the Joker and have Jim Gordon run around as Batcop. With all the buzz surrounding his and artist Greg Capullo’s massive overhaul of the Batman landscape, it might have been easy to miss that he was gearing up to debut his latest indie comic, except Wytches is being backed by creator-owned powerhouse Image Comics.
The series reunites Snyder with Mark “Jock” Simpson, who was co-artist on Snyder’s first Bat-story, Batman: The Black Mirror, a near perfect fusion of crime noir and psychological horror which launched Snyder’s career. To say Snyder and Jock do not disappoint is an understatement grosser than Mike Huckabee’s stances on women’s and queer issues. Wytches is easily the best horror comic of the year thus far, and by far the creepiest and most interesting take on the classic “witch” mythology since Archie Comics’ The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Not to mention, it’s literally Stephen King-certified to chill you to the bone.
Wytches begins in the epicenter of all fictional horror: semi-rural New England. The Rooks family is settling into their new home in Litchfield, New Hampshire, hoping the removed nature of the town will help them move on from a series of traumatic events that have left all three of them emotionally and/or physically damaged. This isn’t the only unfortunate Stephen King trope to pop up in the beginning — the father is a writer who struggles with alcoholism, the main character is a child who has ties to the supernatural for an unexplained reason and is tormented by borderline psychopathic bullies, and all the local residents act suspiciously whenever spooky or supernatural stuff happen. However, these tropes are only used to lure the reader into a false sense of security.
As the story progresses and we learn more and more about the Rooks and what exactly happened that drove them to Litchfield, the fragility of such clichés simply can’t stand up. Yes, Charlie Rooks is a writer and recovering alcoholic, but first and foremost he’s a father who’ll do anything to protect his daughter, with a guilt-driven determination that makes the end of his arc tragic. Meanwhile, young daughter Sailor has ties to the wytches, but for reasons that only surface at the story’s end (and are too huge a twist to spoil While her anxiety disorder is a pretty serious inhibitor, it doesn’t stop her from carrying her own weight. She’s no damsel in distress, just a kid dragged down a hole trying to get out.
Sadly, the few supporting characters can’t measure up to the depth of the protagonists, though not for lack of effort. They just don’t show up enough in the story to leave as serious an impact. Lucy Rooks spends most of the story as the supportive wife who was left paraplegic following a car accident, but as the story progresses she winds up at the center of one of the most chilling moments in the comic. However, if any supporting character steals the show through action alone, it’s the twisted Officer Petal. Petal, in a way, is at the philosophical nexus of Wytches, a man so self-absorbed he has no problem with systematically sacrificing people to the wytches to prolong his life, clashing against a man who is willing to risk everything to save his daughter. That Petal has supposedly been dealing with the wytches since the Salem Witch Trials is even more unsettling, as his claim that he can “get back up from anything” is repeatedly tested and proven horribly correct.
Snyder’s tweaked mythology of the wytches is the crux of the whole comic, and it seems his ability to re-work ancient folklore and modern perceptions into a unique blend of gruesome is not limited to vampires. Here, wytches are an evolutionary offshoot of humanity, and their many potions and elixirs are brewed through their highly advanced knowledge of minerals and resources we don’t have access to. Snyder manages to work in nearly every conceivable detail of witch lore, from the witch trials to the story of the lady in the gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel. The worst part of it all is that the wytches aren’t even the real monsters. From their perspective, it’s all economics. They give us life-changing ethers, we give them what they need to survive — food, preferably in child form. But the people who make these deals are seriously willing to pledge other people to death by cauldron for their own personal gain, sometimes even breeding children for that specific purpose.
As for the art, this might be Jock’s finest work to date, in spite of its faint similarity to his illustrations in The Black Mirror. Sailor looks like a younger version of his Barbara Gordon. But he employs all sorts of dark, shadowy splashes all across the pages so that even the scenes in broad daylight have a twisted, otherworldly vibe. A lot of scenes feel like a series of dark watercolor paintings in rapid succession, and the often jagged panel lines help emphasize just how much you should be hugging your blanket as you’re reading this. And yes, we fully recommend taking shelter in your blanket as you read Wytches, because as we cannot emphasize enough, they wytches themselves are terrifying. Jock’s interpretation is much closer to a mix of Gollum and the haunted VHS in The Ring than your typical crone with a pointy hat, and that they literally snatch people up through the trees is downright chilling.
In one story arc, Snyder and Jock have revolutionized the witch mythology for a new generation of horror junkies, and snuck in a heart-wrenching family drama that will leave you wrecked and wanting more, but fear not. Snyder and Jock have pledged that volume 2 is underway and as they say in Litchfield, pledged is pledged.
Final Score: 9/10
*Please remember that that line was intended for comedic purposes. Emertainment Monthly does not condone book burning for any reason. Just give it to your closest horror buff friend or something.