Chit. Chit. Chit. Of course there are no sounds in comic books, you have to use your imagination, but just seeing those words dotted throughout Volume One of Scott Snyder’s Wytches is enough to give you chills every time it appears, just one of many powerful moments throughout his Image Comics horror tale.
When your front cover carries a quote from Stephen King saying how good your comic is, then you know that something special is on the way and, for six chapters, Scott Snyder’s Wytches is classy horror of the highest order. The quote from King is telling because one could imagine reading Wytches as a novel, in prose form, and one could even imagine someone like King writing it. It deals with themes of family and being a parent as well as being a writer, and then proceeds to inflicts intense, imaginative horror upon a creative type and the relationships around him, and yet the supernatural threat throughout feels like it could only have come from the man responsible for acclaimed Batman story arc, Death of the Family. Although there are no faces “cut off” in Wytches, there is a level of discomfort that is hard to ignore and recalls some of the most intense moments from Snyder’s recent run on Batman New 52.
In fact, the degree of discomfort running throughout Wytches could be said to make this first volume a little hard to enjoy and yet, if it were “easier” to enjoy, it would actually do the title a great disservice. Horror, truly great horror that is, is a genre that can make you appreciate it more when it’s dealing with scenes or scenarios that are deeply uncomfortable, and Wytches, with its depiction of murder, pledging of loved ones to be sacrificed, corrupt law enforcement, the horror of alcoholism and school bullying, is powerful reading and a title that one will not forget after reading it. It gets into your mind in a way only the great horror narratives can do. Its scenarios, its themes, its ideas and story telling twists and turns ensure that it will not be forgotten in a hurry.
For anyone coming to Wytches after reading Snyder’s, quite frankly, BRILLIANT run on Batman, the story of Sailor and her father will come as a surprise. More low-key in its approach, Wytches is essentially a family drama centred around paranormal themes and has a confrontational nature that will recall Snyder’s work on Batman, proving itself to be unafraid to go to some weird, strange places, but on a much more smaller, even relatable, way. Instead of superheroes and supervillains, we’re given a family in trouble, trying to escape the past to a better future, only to find further past events waiting to step on them even more harshly, practically begging to destroy them. With a small family at the centre and the issues they are dealing with, Snyder ensures that his tale has an emotional pull that makes it an engaging read.
Featuring flashbacks that fill in the gaps of the Rook family and how they have come to be where they are in the present, Snyder’s writing has a vice-like grip that never lets you go, even as the story goes into darker and darker territory, and as Jock’s artwork becomes ever more deliberately murky, surreal and beautiful, you cannot look away. Like the best of Stephen King, there’s a compulsion that one finds within themselves that makes you want to stop, but can’t because the writing is so damn good, even when the story is becoming ever more disturbing and frightening, with scenarios that are deeply disturbing and yet all of this makes for incredibly powerful drama.
One bullying scene in particular threatens to push into the boundaries of extreme violence before a more conventional, gruesome act relieves us and Sailor of having to endure what would have been a terrible act of torture, but the murder itself of Sailor’s bully sets in motion the events that lead to the underlying story being told here, as Sailor becomes more withdrawn into a world of depression and her father Charlie into a spiral of alcoholism, with one bout of drinking leading to a confrontation on a Ferris Wheel that is equally hard to read, but only because by the time the sequence comes around, we have gotten to care very deeply for both of these characters in the present, that to see these terrible events in their past is difficult to look at.
It may sound like I’m saying that Wytches is best avoided if what you want to read something light and fun, and the truth is if horror is not your thing, then Wytches is probably not for you, but given the success of his Batman run at DC, it’s understandable that Snyder would want to go for something completely different with this and he does so with genuinely brilliant results.
In his “Who Would You Pledge?” notes for issue six that accompany the TPB, Snyder himself says that he told artist Jock that the readership for his series would most likely be small due to the themes and ideas within Wytches, something that thankfully didn’t happen as the series enjoyed a great deal of success. This really shouldn’t be a surprise. Sailor and Charlie are terrifically developed characters worth spending time with, while the atmosphere and the build up in mystery is equally sensational. Anytime the story takes a turn and twists in another direction, you find yourself gasping with shock, and that turn of the page becomes a compulsive need, a desperate need in fact, to know what happens next. When one character in particular turns out to be a bad seed (don’t worry, no spoilers), I desperately kept reading so I could hear their explanation as to WHY.
Like the best comic books, or novels that deal with horror and suspense themes, Wytches will see your finger tips slightly perspired with suspense as you turn the page, your palms that little bit sweaty and your finger nails increasingly shorter to the extent that one should not be surprised that you have bloody stumps where your fingers used to be. None of these things happen if you don’t care for the characters and as the story goes into ever darker, yet emotionally brilliant territory, with a truly suspenseful final issue, Wytches shows itself to be a dark force that is hard to look away from. With its domestic setting, character driven horror, fantastic artwork from Jock, colours from Matt Hollingsworth and lettering from Clem Robins, this approaches something of a masterpiece for everyone involved, whilst Snyder, once again, shows himself as being one of the best comic book writers working today.