Crack open the cover and the first thing you’ll see is the definition of “witch” – wicca, sorcerer, hag, crone, pact with the devil, all the usual assumptions. On the next page that definition is scrawled out, violently so. Wytches is about to dispel all you thought you knew about the witch. No pointy hats, no bubbling cauldrons, no broomsticks–all of that is fantasy, but wytches (note the spelling) are very real, powerful, and dangerous.
Scott Snyder is no stranger to telling a scary story, having first come to prominence with his Vertigo series, American Vampire. And while that series could be frightening, it didn’t have the same sense of foreboding that is already permeating through Wytches #1. This issues’ opening flashback is unnerving, and perfectly sets the eerie and unsettling tone of the book.
From there we’re introduced to young Sailor Rooks, a 13-year-old girl waiting on the bus with her father, about to have her first day at a new school. Changing schools would be a terrifying experience for anyone, but for Sailor – who moved to escape a horrible ordeal she endured at her old school – it is especially frightening.
Between the beats of Sailor feeling isolated and ostracized, Snyder characterizes the Rooks as a close family, with parents Charlie and Lucy believably concerned for their daughter. Already, in only this first issue readers will be rooting for the Rooks. Which is good because they’re going to need it.
It isn’t entirely clear what’s really going on at the heart of Wytches, but that’s fine. What good horror story shows its hand in the first act? What is shown is absolutely terrifying. These moments are few and they’re well-spaced throughout the book – a glimpse of man on the edge of the woods with a vacant stare, a deer screeching and vomiting up a… foot? Its tongue? It wasn’t clear, but it was… unsettling. And that’s what makes Wytches #1 such a great, spooky read: it’ll leave you feeling unnerved, tense, and horrified. Perfecting reading for this season, right?
Beyond Snyder’s chilling script, a lot of the credit for giving Wytches its horrifying, unsettling feel goes to Jock and Matt Hollingsworth. It shouldn’t be surprising that Jock can manage the really creepy stuff (Did you read his run with Snyder on Detective Comics?), but even in the tamer moments his character work is excellent. Little touches like Sailor looking down and scuffing her shoe while talking with her dad or his hand brushing her cheek in comfort add a lot to the characterization written in dialogue.
But again, that creepy stuff. Holy crap! Jock uses dark, heavy shadows to obscure some horror until its revealed in its full, terrifying glory. Then Hollingsworth’s colors come into effect, with vibrant reds and purples bringing focus in an otherwise muted palette. Sailor, too, has hair that’s a shocking red, making her stand out from the rest of Wytches‘ characters and settings; continuing to isolate her and mark her as other.
They’ve also managed to give every page a weathered effect – aided by Hollingsworth’s seemingly random blotches of bleeding colors – as if this book was found lying abandoned in the words. It’s only further evidence of the care and attention to detail that went into making Wytches#1 a powerful first issue.
(Just as important is Snyder’s essay at the end of the book. His writing adds an additional and more personal layer to an already multifaceted story, I definitely recommend reading it.)
If only one gripe can be laid against Wytches, it’s that the issue’s cliffhanger feels off; as if it’s missing a page and there’s one last shocking image we need to see. Then again, that may be another trick of not wanting to reveal too much too soon, in which case, I’m more than happy to wait.