Review: Wytches Volume 1 by Scott Snyder and Jock (2015)

Wytches Volume 1

Wytches Volume 1
Image, 2015 (containing material from 2014-2015)
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Jock

Review by N Emmett.

The people who were persecuted for witchcraft throughout history were not witches: they were merely the followers of witches. The true Wytches are a race of supernatural beings that can grant wishes – at the cost of a human life.

Sailor Rooks is a thirteen-year-old girl with a traumatic past: one time she wished that a school bully will go away forever, and the Wytches obliged by spiriting the bully away before her very eyes. Unaware of the full story behind this incident, Sailor’s parents take their daughter to a new school for a fresh start after moving house.

But Sailor is still troubled by the Wytches. Her father Charlie realises that something is very wrong, and takes it upon himself to solve the mystery and save his daughter.

To author Scott Snyder, Wytches is a personal story. As he relates in a series of articles included at the back of the book, the comic was inspired partly by his childhood days spent exploring the wilderness with a friend, where they invented a story (inspired by Roald Dahl’s The Witches) to explain some of the strange sights that they came across. Another inspiration for the tale was Snyder’s 7-year-old son, who had just outgrown is fears of bogeymen in the bedroom – only to develop a rather harder-to-quash fear of school shootings.wyt1

The personal, subjective genesis of Wytches may explain its scattershot execution. Multiple times    throughout this first volume it introduces a promising concept, but ends up leaving the idea unexplored.

For example, Charlie is shown to be working on a book about a boy having magical adventures in a fairground. The comic contains a couple of visual nods to this plot element – Charlie has a Ferris wheel tattoo on his shoulder, and spends one melancholy scene in an abandoned amusement park – but the theme is never really integrated into the narrative. This is odd, as having a children’s author as a protagonist has obvious potential in a story that is, in large part, about childhood fantasy.

wyt2On a similar note we have the family joke between Charlie and his daughter, in which Sailor comes up with ingenious ways to slay mythical beasts. Presumably, this is a remnant from an earlier stage in her life when, like Snyder’s son, she was troubled by the idea of monsters in the bedroom. But this implied backstory is never developed.

Not everything in a story needs to be spelt out, of course, but if too much is left to the imagination then the narrative risks losing its impact. The book’s climax involves a betrayal – but since the individual responsible was given only token characterisation, this moment is not the shocking twist that it was clearly meant to be.

This points to another problem with the comic, in that the characters only occasionally come to life. Only now and again are we afforded a good look into their lives or personalities, with the rest of the comic being spent setting up mysteries or establishing mood.

wyt3The premise of Wytches is a classic example of a high concept, full of iconic appeal. The Wytches themselves are fetchingly ambiguous – are they aliens? Mutant humans? Lovecraftian abominations? – and recall reference points from both fairy tale and modern science fiction. They have a surreal method of dispatching victims which involves trapping the unfortunate individuals inside hollow trees, and they even have their own slogan (“pledged is pledged is pledged”, chant the people who pledge human lives to the Wytches). On top of all this, Snyder has brought his personal musings about childhood fear and imagination. But yet, Wytches lacks a strong narrative.

This is a curious failing on Snyder’s part, as his work on the likes of Batman and The Wake show him to be a robust serial storyteller. Perhaps Wytches marks a concerted attempt to move away from the pulpy ethos of the DC Universe, but if so, Snyder has thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

wyt4The artist Jock uses an expressionistic style in illustrating Wytches, depicting a forest of shadows, splatters and slashes; the kind of place where we can quite imagine that unknown horrors lurk behind every corner. Jock’s portrayal of the cast is much more conventional, however, and ultimately accentuates the comic’s issues with characterisation. The sight of these typical comic-book people alongside stark expressionist imagery – with a digital canvas texture on top, for good measure – is almost Warholian, making the cast come across less as characters and more as stylistic experiments.

Wytches Volume 1 is not a bad comic – far from it. The book has a number of inspired concepts with strong psychological resonance. But Snyder’s scripts lack the binding, the essential storytelling glue, that would turn these elements into a truly successful work of fiction.