“Wytches” #2 by Scott Snyder and Jock has a lot of creepiness, but none of the potent shock of the first issue’s flashback scene to 1919, with its ghastly inversion of the ideal of Mother and Child in the son denying life to his mother. Snyder made the right move to play one of his trump cards up front, but it means that the second issue is necessarily more low-key.
Snyder opens with another chapter from the children’s book. This additional layer of narrative points the reader towards to the theme of payment in the word “pledge.” There’s a price for everything, and debts must be paid. The transition from the storybook to Charlie and Reggie’s conversation is seamless. Although two characters mulling over recent events is usually an unfortunate information-dumping technique, it actually works in “Wytches” #2. The dialogue makes Reggie’s question feel natural, and Snyder injects some immediacy with a flashback.
Throughout, the artwork has overlay of faded and mottled translucent splatters. This water-damaged effect makes “Wytches” feel fluid and messy, full of liquid, reminding the reader of blood in the scenes of violence or psychological pressure. In the woods, the mottled spots blend into Jock’s dramatic use of ink and silhouetting. In some of the other scenes, it’s slightly distracting, but it can add as much as it detracts. At the swimming pool, the splatters give the scene a dreaminess and lightness heightened by Hollingsworth’s use of light. In the gym class lineup, Jock distinguishes Lucy from the other girls by the spiky red bangs poking out from under her swimming cap and her hunched and self-protective posture. Jock’s gestures and outlines for the swimmers are accurate and graceful. He gets the poses and the muscles just right, with all the tension and looseness in the right places. Also, it’s a delight that the line of teenage girls is so inclusive and realistic, with a variety of body shapes, faces and skin colors, and no inappropriate sexualization.
The pace speeds up after Sailor’s aquatic waking underwater nightmare is sandwiched with Lucy at the hospital. The return to the woods cut with scenes from the hospital and Charlie at home feels choppy and frenzied, intentionally so. The staccato-like jumpiness of the transitions adds to an atmosphere of confusion and terror. But like deliberately shaky camera work, it’s disorienting. The biggest flaw of “Wytches” is still its fragmentary feel. Snyder plays up the unknown, but the upshot is that not yet one strong narrative undertow that lets the reader sink in, just more questions.
While Sailor and her parents and uncle are all sympathetic and relatable, none of them have a distinctive voice or personality yet. They are saved from blandness only by the strength of Snyder’s dialogue and Jock’s facial expressions. The cliffhanger on the last page is also weak. There’s just not enough information about what is going on yet to give the scene meaning and weight.
“Wytches” continues to develop familiar stock staples of the horror genre: a teenager in a painful stage of adolescence, a small town, a secret history and predators in the woods. Like many horror stories of this mold, the big twist is that there’s some variation of human sacrifice and scapegoating. There are hundreds of stories out there with this premise, but Snyder makes “Wytches” different. First, Snyder does the horror story version of letting the reader know the identity of the murderer in the first chapter. Now, the suspense must revolve entirely around how and why instead of what.
“Wytches” is about the dangers of not knowing the past and the truism that “wherever you go, there you are.” In other words, there’s no running away. Sailor has realized this quickly, and again, Snyder plays with convention in not stretching this out, letting the creatures show themselves and having Sailor confront them very early in the game. This saps these old twists of some juice, but it’s also an indication of Snyder’s ambition that he’s rearranging a classic plot trajectory into something new and unpredictable.