Taylor: What with all the recent fanfare over vampires and the occasional werewolf, it’s easy to forget they are but a distant second to the most used Halloween costumes. While Frankenstein is always a crowd pleaser, I’m of course referring to witches. Yes, the pointed hatted women riding broomsticks with black cats are perhaps an even more iconic symbol of spookiness than any number of vampire fangs. So why aren’t they as popular as their Vampire counterparts? How come for every one book about witches there are ten about blood-suckers? With these questions in mind I dived into issue Scott Snyder’s new series, Wytches. While I didn’t necessarily have all of my questions answered, I did get enough to pique my interest.
Sailor is a teenage girl who has recently moved to New Hampshire (no taxes!) with her family. Her dad is a cartoonist who loves his daughter dearly and her mom is a mysterious presence who is bound in a wheelchair. On the outside they seem like a normal, happy family. However, like all families, they have their deep dark secrets. Before the move, Sailor was being harassed by a girl, Annie, who among other things wanted to humiliate her. Just as Annie is about to get her wish, with Sailor at gun point no less, a tree opens up and grabs the girl, seemingly killing her. Sailor survives, but the question remains: did she perpetrate the kill?
This is but one of the many mysteries that abound in this issue. Others include a trespassing dear vomiting out it’s own tongue, the possible knowledge by Sailor’s parents that she has latent witch powers, and of course the reveal that Annie might not be dead…but not quite alive either. All in all these surprises are expected for a comic that is ostensibly about witches. When dealing with occult magic, weirdness is basically a given with the territory. While it might be tempting to assume this detracts from the issue, I find that it doesn’t. There’s a certain satisfaction when we have our expectations met and that’s the case here.
Of course, these expectations are taken to delightful extremes by Snyder and artist Jock. I took a delightfully eerie pleasure in the scene where the the random deer appears before Charlie and Lucy. The deer, for ominous and unknown reasons pukes up it’s own tongue, rightfully disgusting our leading family and leaving them wondering if it’s some sort of sign. I just love the way Jock renders this disgusting scene:
For whatever reason, deer have always seemed a little insane to me. Maybe it’s the vacant expression in their eyes or maybe it’s how skittish they are around just about everything. Whatever the reason for this feeling, Jock captures the deranged nature of deer perfectly. We get that same caught-in-the-headlights look we all know right before the deer perpetrates its gross act. I love it. It’s oddly spooky and regardless of anything else present in the issue, lends the scene a certain ominous feeling.
Perhaps by fulfilling these expectations Snyder is hoping to shed light on our own expectations for what a comic about witches will be. After all, the character of Charlie shares an uncanny resemblance with Snyder and he does just happen to be a comicbook creator. In the first issue of Wytches Charlie is making a graphic novel where the main character is in a haunted house of mirrors.
The very idea of mirrors suggests that Snyder is attempting to reflect some message about comics, or witches, on the reader. This of course makes us question what exactly Snyder is holding a mirror up to, but at this point we can only speculate. For me, it seems that the reasonable assumption is Snyder wants us to reflect on the very nature of witches in general. After all, the man does spend a good essay speaking about the topic at the end of the issue where it becomes clear the idea of witches is of intense interest to him.
Drew, what do you think Snyder is reflecting on, if anything? Also, does this series have your interest? I can see how maybe this opening is a little underwhelming, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. What do you think?
Drew: Taylor, I definitely agree that Charlie’s profession is one of the more interesting elements of this issue. The parallels to Snyder are too salient to overlook, but I’m also at a bit of a loss as to what it might actually mean. Charlie’s conversation with his editor is all about following what he wants versus giving people what they expect — an idea that intriguingly echoes your own thoughts on our expectations of this series.
Only, I’m going to come down on the other side. You’re absolutely right to say that some level of weirdness is to be expected in a series about witches, but the particular species of weirdness we get here was a total surprise to me. I’d avoided any of the press leading up to this issue’s release, so while I suspected that we weren’t going to be getting old crones zipping around on broomsticks, I was surprised to see them as some kind of elemental force of nature — an ageless evil hidden in the woods. I won’t deny that the deer scene felt like pretty standard act one horror film creepiness (though a damn effective one, thanks both to Jock and colorist Matt Hollingsworth), but I think Snyder’s historical perspective gives the wytches an unexpected twist that definitely makes me want more.
Of course, Snyder doesn’t give us all that much info about the wytches here. We learn that they consume “pledges” through holes in trees, but the only hint as to why comes from that afterword you mentioned. There, Snyder suggests that the pledges are human sacrifices made to the wytches in order to gain some kind of wish from them — basically selling someone else’s soul to the Devil. This particular bit of exposition might have come across a bit better if Snyder had kept page 6 as written:
As it appears here, I got the impression that Tim simply respected (and feared) the sanctity of pledging above even his love for his own mother. It’s a creepy moment, for sure, but Tim’s original line (as indicated in the script sample included in the issue’s backmatter), “I don’t understand…you weren’t supposed to get away,” changes his role in the pledging significantly — he’s no longer a kid surrendering to the power of a pledge, but a kid who sold his own mother out. That also makes it abundantly clear how pledging works, which becomes a key concept as we learn what happened to Sailor.
Then again, Annie add’s another wrinkle to our understanding of what these wytches are, as she apparently appears outside Sailor’s bedroom window. Do they convert their victims into wytches? Or eventually release them as vengeance-fueled monsters? Or maybe it’s a bit of trickery on the part of the wytches? And what does any of this have to do with the bald woman who watches Sailor’s bus go by, then appears again as Sailor is visited by the Annie-wytch?
Taylor, I think your assessment of this issue as underwhelming but enjoyable is spot-on. Snyder tends to walk the line on teasing just enough or not-quite-enough information in his first issues, and this definitely feels like we don’t get quite enough to be satisfying on its own. That’s not going to stop me from picking up the next issue — if anything, it makes me more curious (which I guess means it worked just fine) — but I’ll definitely expect a little more traction as to what we’re actually dealing with. I’m happy to follow Snyder into the hall of mirrors, but only so long as I know we’re eventually getting to that roller coaster.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?