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As far as comic books go, it’s hard to get much better than Scott Snyder’s “day job” as the long-time writer on the main Batman title for DC Comics (he’s also one of the main writers on the weekly Batman Eternal series). Still, Snyder has an interest in stories that, for one reason or another, can’t be told in Gotham. He is a fiction writer and has had horror comics like American Vampire and The Wake published by Vertigo. His new horror series from Image Comics, illustrated by Jock (The Losers, Detective Comics), is called Wytches, and it grounds the scary in a regular world.
Wytches opens with a prologue set in 1919 in which a bloody woman is trapped inside a tree. She is bad shape, missing a nose, and calls for help from her nearby son. When she admits that she was “pledged,” her son bashes her over the head. From here, we jump to modern day, where a writer/illustrator Charlie Rooks is trying to calm his daughter, Sailor, on her first day at a new school. Still, she’s nervous that someone will say something to her.
Of course, kids being kids, someone does ask Sailor directly, “Did you kill that girl or not?” From here, we learn that Sailor had a confrontation in the woods with a bully named Annie, who was threatening her before something from a tree grabbed Annie and she vanished. Sailor still feels guilty because she wanted Annie dead. Although her father tries to tell her she’s not responsible, she still feels bad and at the end of the issue begins to see a creature at the window that looks like Annie, who may or may not be after her.
Snyder does a nice job in this issue of establishing both the natural world and the supernatural one. Readers who will are expecting wall-to-wall horror craziness will be surprised by some of the more realistic elements of the story. Snyder established the characters within the family and their small, woodsy town environment. At the same time, he also shows a number of really creepy things that are both on the line and over the line of being freaking-out worthy.
There is clearly a Stephen King (with whom Snyder worked on American Vampire) influence in Wytches with the small town feel, the well-meaning but imperfect father, and the strong emphasis on grounded realism. The established realism really does make the supernatural elements work even better because the story feels like it takes place in our world, or one like it. So when the scary thing happens, they feel impactful.
The illustrator Jock is the artist on Wytches, and he is a good choice for the series. Snyder and Jock make a number of effective visual choices, mainly not showing too much of the wytches. So far, we really only see their claw-like fingers. Jock does well with the people’s faces, making them expressive while also stylized. He is known for many kinds of comics, including super hero ones, and that versatility makes Wytches feel more unpredictable.
Some of the things that make horror movies (lighting, sudden movement) and horror prose stories (weird sights that readers have to imagine) effective are not possible in the same way for horror comics. In Wytches, Snyder and Jock give some alternative ways to make readers feel uncomfortable (if not actually scared just yet): disturbing themes and unexplained strangeness. Wytches has already been optioned by Plan B Entertainment, so there is a chance we can see Wytches in multiple forms. It can be difficult to sustain a great horror series, but Snyder and Jock are off to a good start in Wytches.