Wytches, Vol. 1

My initial review of this was: "Good except for when it's not."

I dislike feeling ambivalent about a comic.  For me, in most areas of my life, things have to be black and white if I'm to be comfortable with them.  Something is right or it's wrong.  You're rude or you're polite.  Celery salt is nasty, not tasty.  I like the comfort of categorizing something and placing it in an imaginary box inside my head.

Obviously, this isn't the most practical approach to life, because life is messy and confusing and full of nuances and undertones and exceptions.  I'm working on doing better with compromise and stuff like that, but it's hard when I read a book or comic and I can't quite figure out how I feel about it.  And no, I'm not talking about that fakey-feelz stuff that crops up in romances like, "Goodness!  I just don't know how to feel about two insanely hot dudes flinging themselves at my poor, unpedicured feet!"  I mean where if you put the good and the bad on a scale, it would be about balanced.

That's how I feel about this first volume of Wytches, by Scott Snyder and Jock. The beginning is really strong and creepy, and then ... roams around a bit ... to settle in a rather confusing ending.

Sailor Rook has a rough time at school.  Especially since her family just moved to a new town in the middle of Nowhere, New England, but all the kids at her school know about what happened to the last bully who messed with Sail.  The bully who died.  Sailor's dad, Charles, writes children's books, and her mother was recently paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident.  Unfortunately, not only is Sail plagued with depression and feelings of inadequacy, but she knows the truth about what happened to that bully: these giant tree things ate her.

Turns out that these evil Ents are the real wytches of the world: creatures with great knowledge that they will bestow upon humans for a price: a pledged individual to be roasted until tender on the inside and crispy on the outside.  "A pledge is a pledge is a pledge," say those in cahoots with the wytches.  The wytches will hunt down anyone trying to evade their pledge, even through generations.    There's stuff that can slow them down--stinky serum and bullets made with rats--but overall, they're going to catch up with you.

Writing this all down seems rather ridiculous, and maybe it is, but in light of the author's note at the end of issue one, it makes more sense.  Snyder talks about how when he was a kid, he and a friend would go "witch hunting" in the woods with a Polaroid camera.  They had an encounter that really, truly freaked them out--a large, treelike being passing them in the woods.  It's a really interesting story, and it adds a lot of dimension to Snyder's wytches.  You might be able to run from a human witch, but a giant tree-creature with branches and teeth and underground lairs?  Sorry, see you never!

Anyway, Sail is increasingly plagued by strange occurrences, like something reaching in through her bedroom window and leaving a bolus of ... something in her neck.  Eventually, she's taken by the wytches, and her dad Charlie is determined to save her.

The relationship between Sail and Charlie was my favorite part of this, actually.  I didn't find the comic to be particularly scary in a made-you-jump sort of way, or even a woo-woo ancient evil sort of way.  The scary part is that Charlie wasted a lot of Sail's childhood as an alcoholic, and just when they forge a good bond, she's taken from him.  He's determined to never, ever lose her.  And he'll go to Hell and back to save her.  Her condemnation of his drinking and destructive behavior saved him, after all.  I really like seeing strong, complex father-daughter relationships in comics.

And now to the not-so-good.  While the first few issues are quite atmospheric and tense, things became increasingly muddled and strung-out as Charlie embarks on his quest to save Sail.  There were just pages of him him crawling around an underground lair.  And then more pages of the two running.  And then more pages of the creatures coming after them.  Ooh, wait, I have to tell you about how Charlie found out a) that the wytches were real and b) how to get to Sail!

So, this bald woman who I thought was a man attacks Charlie, blows some enchanted powder in his face, and uses a needle that's coming out of her nipple (that's what it looked like to me!) to inject him with something.  Later, he has blue squiggles on his lower belly that spell out the word "here."  Conveniently, "Here" is part of a place name nearby, where he goes to meet the mysterious old woman, who's like a wytch-fighter.  She gives over all her supplies to Charlie and then hangs herself. But ugh, the teat-needle.  Ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh.

The big reveal at the end left me scratching my head.  Warning: spoilers ahead.

Sailor's mom is a real peach.  Pledging her daughter in order to regain her ability to walk.  Nice.  Her rationale to Charlie when he finds out is that they'll forget they ever had a daughter and just make another baby!  I don't like having psychopathy sprung on me like that!  It almost felt like it belonged in a soap opera.  "YES!  I pledged you to a bunch of malformed metacreatures who are going to truss you up like a tasty piggy just so I could walk again!  Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!"

I understand that the art is supposed to be creepy and edgy, but it (actually, the color work) just screams "trying too hard."  I love how Jock drew Sail and Charlie (Sail wears really cool orange glasses that I rather covet), but when you flip through the back pages to see the art process, it's clear that Jock's angular, rough artwork is perfectly suited to the story, but the colorist, Matt Hollingsworth, completely ruined it with a splash technique.  It looks like a Watercolor 101 class vomited on all of the panels.  It's really hard to read or figure out what's going on when there's giant blobs of color spattered randomly around the panels.  I think it was aiming for "trippy" but derailed into messy.

While Snyder's story isn't the most original, it wasn't awful.  If you're looking for really fun horror, though, check out American Vampire.  Skinner Sweet--now there's one for the books.


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