Wytches #2

Wytches is good and makes me think D.C. should’ve used Scott Snyder in their efforts to reach out to more girlish audiences. The following re-post is a little out of date now, but this review appeared a couple weeks ago at Newsarama, in the Best Shots column.

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Wytches #2
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jock and Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering by Clem Robins
Published by Image
Review by Lilith Wood
Rating: 8 out of 10

Wytches feels very close to real life for a story featuring primeval crones lurking the woods. This second issue keeps the momentum rolling and ratchets up the foreboding as we learn more about the Rooks family and the town they moved to. This creative team is deft at setting up believable characters and all the bittersweet, ordinary, and quirky things that make this family who they are. In Wytches #2, patterns, colors, details and fears are carefully layered for maximum terror.

The Rooks family has moved to a new town after their teenage daughter Sailor was traumatized by an incident in the woods with another girl. Writer Scott Snyder and artist Jock show us Sailor’s memory of another girl being attacked and violently absorbed by a tree, but no one in Sailor’s life believes her version of events. The new town they have moved to seems riddled with reminders of what Sailor saw in the woods. It’s clear that something or someone is not done with this family.

This is a dark story, but colorist Matt Hollingsworth concentrates bright colors here and there — a green shirt, a yellow chair, the slash of Sailor’s bright red hair across her face — with a contrasting darkness around the edges. Hollingsworth flecks more colors all across Jock’s inks, which adds to the sensation that the panels are floating up from the page with something very bad behind them. Sailor always seems to be looking out of windows and through trees at something. She moves from window to window, or sits in the school bus passing rows of trees. The silhouettes of the windows and trees sliding past each other are like dark, old-fashioned cut-paper illustrations.

Inside Hollingsworth’s pools of color and light, Snyder and Jock use faces, body language and dialogue to establish the ordinary hopes and fears of this little family. Everything menacing outside of the family is that much more terrifying because we can see how Charlie aches for his daughter’s well-being, and how much he hoped that the move to the new town would help things. We see how vulnerable Sailor’s mother Lucy looks in her wheelchair, and we watch Charlie lose it with frustration as he tries to install her stair-climbing chair in the new house. We see Sailor’s tentative smile at a friendship overture from a girl at her new school. This family has already been through the ringer, but Snyder and Jock show us how much more they have to lose, and how little they know of what’s out there in the dark.

It’s not all empathy-building, atmospherics and ominous hints in Wytches #2. Having created a backdrop of paternal love and simmering anxiety, Snyder and Jock unleash some straight-up ghastly creatures. This issue builds steadily to a triple cliffhanger, and I don’t think Sailor’s parents are going to be acting like she is imagining things for too much longer. I recommend Wytches for anyone who likes to be creeped out, but even non-horror people will appreciate this portrayal of a very loving, very stressed-out father.

Southern Bastards #5

I tried to think of a flip/catchy title for this review, but this book is just so good, I don’t know what to say except that my hat is off to these guys.

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This review first appeared over at Newsarama in the Best Shots column.

Southern Bastards #5
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Jason Latour
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Image Comics
Review by Lilith Wood
Rating: 9 out of 10

Southern Bastards #5 begins a new arc, picking up where the story left off, but shifting perspective after the tale of Earl Tubb. Our view of Craw County widens as we see it from an insider’s perspective for the first time. Jason Aaron and Jason Latour dedicate the issue to Coach Boss and introduce the Sheriff as someone who is not going to forget anything. The story still feels like a fable, but it goes beyond simplistic paradigms of good and evil.

The first four issues of this story were so sad and complete that I didn’t know if Aaron and Latour even meant to continue the story beyond Tubb. Earl was a middle-aged man who returned to his football-obsessed hometown and felt haunted by his sheriff father’s over-bearing memory. After the casual murder of an old schoolmate, Earl stood up to the town’s dictatorial football coach and his goons. Earl was supposed to be a good guy, but this book has shown violence — even his righteous violence — as flavorless and uniform.

Southern Bastards #5 begins with a brutal flashback to Coach Boss’s teenage years. We sympathize with him for the first time when we seem him as a boy on his knees. At first he’s just belittled by his coach, but in a later return to the flashback we see him viciously assaulted by his own teammates. Latour continues with the book’s trademark muscular style and starkly limited range of colors. The Coach’s flashback is in the same angry reds used for Earl’s troubled memories in earlier issues. Where Earl’s flashbacks took the form of silent observation of adult violence or active participation in wartime violence, the young Euless Boss was a direct victim.

Outside the flashback, this issue looks like the phrase “in the cold light of day.” We follow present-day Coach Boss, the storm clouds of tension are only beginning to gather again after the first arc. For his subdued daylight palette, Latour uses light browns, tans, grays, cadet blue with familiar highlights of muted, brownish red. Latour’s men are as craggy and imposing as ever, with crooked teeth and thick limbs. Even Earl’s old uncle in a wheelchair looks like he could deliver a beating if he meant to. Assistant coaches Mater and Esaw ride along with Coach Boss and provide some comic relief, but it’s just an echo of the dark, slapsticky humor of earlier episodes. These are bad men but they act as Coach’s foils. From their reactions, we can gauge what’s normal for Coach and for the town.

Aaron shows us Coach Boss feigning innocence at a funeral, even though everyone knows he’s the killer. He’s evil, but we see for the first time that he has a morally useful role in the town. Coach Boss is the one who sees and condemns (to Mater and Esaw) the onlookers who will “forget” what he did because they are ashamed of themselves for letting him get away with it. In a montage of these people, we get a better look at the locals than we did when Earl was the outsider protagonist. After Coach Boss’s guys killed the hapless but vivid Dusty Tutwiler in the second issue, there was no one to reflect Earl’s force of personality. It was a weakness of the story, making it feel more allegorical than literary. After Dusty was killed, Earl was like John Henry racing the steam engine. The county and its people were no more fleshed out than Earl’s shadowy memories of his father.

Coach Boss dismisses the Sheriff to Mater and Esaw along with the others. He says “I betcha he can’t forget fast enough,” and his words are at the center of a sparse panel showing the Sheriff at the gravesite. He has his fists clenched, and his legs planted apart. We see the mound of dirt on Earl’s grave, but the Sheriff is facing the headstone of Earl’s legendary sheriff father. This was an economical way to keep the story close to Coach Boss and his point of view, but introduce the idea that there’s more to the Sheriff than everyone previously realized.

Aaron and Latour have picked Southern Bastards back up in a surprising but fitting way. They dove back into the story with a sinister antihero instead of the hero we were used to. The story has folded in on itself and reemerged as something fresh but recognizable. This shows a command of their themes and story structure that suggests great things to come.

LEANTRO #6

LEANTRO #6  is up on Ulises Farinas’s Orgo’s Books of Knowledge !!

LEANTRO takes place in the same wintry world as the original MOTRO web-comic by Ulises on act-i-vate. I was hugely inspired in general by this web comic. Leantro and Motro are both stocky people with three toes on each foot.

The sketch below on the left is what Ulises drew for me to understand the size and strength of Leantro’s people. She’s standing next to a ten-toed human man (the kind we’re used to).

The panel on the right is from the original MOTRO webcomic. MOTRO was a huge inspiration for the feeling of Leantro’s story, and just an influence on how I want to tell stories in general.

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Low #4: I’m Not Mad, I’m Just Disappointed

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Damn it, Greg Tocchini, this is glorious.

Stel and Marik may have left the city of Salus, but Low hasn’t been able to outswim its own chintziness.

I wanted to like Low #4. The previous issue made a strong showing. Isolating the mother and son and putting them in a survival situation was good for a story that had been overly detailed and floundering in melodrama. But now that the story has been re-peopled and re-cluttered in Low #4, it just feels like a bodice-ripper nestled in some show-offy world-building. Writer Rick Remender gets in his own way, mixing copious exposition with overly colorful, unnecessary snippets of ambient dialogue. Greg Tocchini can and does make everything look gorgeous, but in this issue the feelings of the main characters are obscured by sexual mixed messages and ornate scenes of pirates doing gross things to each other.

The issue suffered for a number of reasons. Near the end of Issue #3, Stel and Marik left their isolated underwater city-state in a Hail Mary bid for their people’s survival. They had lived their whole lives there, cut off from other outposts. They didn’t even know if any other cities still existed, or where they might be. And then, right at the beginning of the very next issue, they’ve arrived at the fabled “third city.” It feels abrupt, like we were cheated of the journey and the suspense of not knowing whether they could make it. When they almost die in the first pages of Low #4, it’s too much crisis too early in the issue and throws off the energy heading back into the story. In Stel’s delirium as her oxygen levels dip, she soliloquizes again about her life philosophy and it feels repetitive and cheesy – especially for a life-threatening situation. It makes it hard to want her to stay alive. Themes and paradigms should not be parroted at us verbatim in word balloons.

My main gripe is with the intellectual dishonesty of Low. I saw all the nudity and sex before, but I just thought it was Remender and Tocchini being wacky. I thought Tocchini’s fun 1970s euro-porn flavorings made the book winkingly dirty but didn’t necessarily detract from Low’s earnest main themes of love, loyalty, family, optimism, and faith. I thought Remender would smooth out the rough spots and prove that he had the writing chops to bring the characters to the forefront and make us believe in their personalities and emotions. And that’s why Low #4 is so disappointing.

Remender has been spinning Low as a story with a strong female protagonist, where the main characters are part of a family, and family ties are important. In the first three issues I strenuously ignored a lot of the signs that the spin is crap. For instance, I glossed over a part in the third issue when it really seemed like a Senator strong-arm the widowed Stel into having sex with him in exchange for his help getting Marik out of prison. Remender and Tocchini seemed to enjoy putting Stel in a situation where coercive sex was on the table, but then they glossed over whether it actually happened or not. I glossed over it too, as a reader and a reviewer, because I thought it was a little embarrassing for the creators and I was focusing on other aspects of the issue. And of course, Marik was in jail in the first place because in the second issue, he accidentally killed a prostitute after having sex with her. Now that I’m typing this, I feel embarrassed that I didn’t already see that this whole storyline is a disingenuous excuse for pretty smut. I mean, there was a huge orgy in the third issue, and now in the fourth issue—in an entirely different city—there are also whole rooms full of hedonistic naked people. Some of them are killing each other, and there are some shackled sex-slave types casually getting killed execution-style. It’s distracting to say the least. Furthermore, Tocchini could have easily given us the gist of all the naked bodies, and peeing, and knives, and bestiality. Remender peppering in bits of dialogue in pirate-speak is just garish.

I’ve loved Tocchini’s colors, his interiors, his underwater scenes, and just the composition of his panels and pages. He’s the only reason I’ve made it four issues into Low. But he disappoints me as well, because his rendering of body language and facial expressions are complicit with Remender’s own bad judgment.

Here’s the last straw for me. In Low #4, we encounter Stel’s long-lost daughter Tajo who is now grown. Tajo is lolling about in a string bikini next to the evil pirate king who kidnapped her when she was about ten. This happened in the first issue and was a defining event for Stel and for this book. Any emotional charge we might feel at Stel realizing that her daughter is alive is drowned out by the weird sexual tension between Tajo and her kidnapper. Tajo is flopping about poutily in the underwater-city equivalent of a bean-bag chair, panel after panel. I think we are actually supposed to believe that there is nothing overtly sexual about how she lies around suggestively, getting called “my dear poppet” by her kidnapper, who she calls “father.” I’m pretty sure we are not supposed to think she has been groomed since childhood as some kind of highly favored sex slave for him, even though this book has been throwing illicit sex at our heads. There is an undeniable sex slave feeling to the situation, but no, the book has toggled dishonestly back to being about “family” and “loyalty.” Even without the May-December incest vibe that we are supposed to pretend we don’t notice (I guess??), it’s just gross for anyone to ever call anyone else “my dear poppet” with a straight face in a book. Any sort of book. It’s way too plummy.

Remender invested in Low’s emotional credibility. He hyped it; he marketed it to us. He almost got me to believe in it. Then he torpedoed it, and for WHAT. If I could gauge how emotionally dense he thinks I am, maybe I could calibrate myself to that level and keep reading Low. But the story is too inconsistent to get a read on. Tocchini is amazing, let’s face it, and Remender confuses matters by showing intermittent signs of being able to write. So I don’t know what the characters are supposed to believe, what I’m supposed to believe, what Remender thinks I’m capable of seeing, and whether I’m supposed to sort of be tricked into thinking one thing until later when there will be some kind of reveal and it will all finally make sense. My not-knowing does not take the form of curiousity. I’ve lost faith in these storytellers and their intentions. So good luck getting me to believe in the relationships inside Low when the creators can’t even establish a relationship with me as a reader.