Comic book Showcase: Wytches

First and foremost, my apologies for not posting anything last week.  I just started a second job and I’ve been busy adjusting to that.

Second, happy Father’s Day!

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A lot of cultures and countries have a day or two where parents are honored more than usual, and yesterday was the day Americans do it, mostly by buying manly things like ties and tools.

Now, I’ve made it very clear that I’ve found it difficult to write a blog entry about some obscure superhero after a holiday that celebrates parenthood.  There are two reasons for this.  First, one of the core values of parent hood is keeping your children safe and the inherent violence that superhero stories require,

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would probably make any self respecting parent cry.

This segues right into the second problem with parenthood in comics.  It’s a well known fact that comic book parents have a nasty habit of dying or being absent from the equation.

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You can’t have parents worrying about their offspring if they’re completely removed from the equation.

So, instead of talking about an obscure comic book superhero from the 1980’s, I thought it would be nice to honor Father’s Day by sharing one of my favorite horror comics with you guys that talks about parenthood: Scott Snyder’s Wytches.

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Side note: This comic came out in 2014, so it’s fairly recent but not recent enough for nobody to have read it, and it’s written and drawn by two well known comic book creators and has garnered enough of a reputation to be optioned as a movie.  I’m going to assume a lot of the people who read this blog have either read it or heard about it, but in the mean time,

SPOILERS AHEAD!

About the comic

Wytches is a six issue limited series that was published by Image Comics in October of 2014.

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The comic was drawn by British artist Jock,

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and written by American artist Scott Snyder.

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Both these guys are fantastic creatives with resumes a mile long, but if I had to draw attention to one part of their careers it would be their contributions to DC’s Batman.  Jock for his artwork,

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and Scott for what he’s added to the mythos, such as the Court of Owls.

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What both Jock and Snyder are very good at is creepy, horror imagery and that all comes to a terrifying and amazing forefront with Wytches.

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The story follows a father named Charlie, his wife Laura, and their daughter Sailor as they move to the small town of Litchfield New Hampshire.

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The reason why they moved was due to Sailor being mercilessly bullied by another girl,

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right up until the girl had an unfortunate “accident”, which led to people believing that Sailor had killed the bully.

Unfortunately for the family, the town and surrounding forest are home to some thing ancient, dark, and horrible: wytches.

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These aren’t creatures of magic, or even human.  These are hunched, twisted, menacing apex predators who live underneath trees and cook humans alive before eating them.  They have some sort of ancient science that can grant boons to anyone who wishes to gain their favor, but they demand a sacrifice in exchange.

This is done by spraying people with a green liquid that marks them as “pledges” and throwing them into a hollowed out tree where the pledge gets dragged down to their lair and eaten.

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Really horrific stuff.

The story is about the family dealing with the wytches and trying not to get eaten.  To say anymore would spoil some of the fun parts of the plot, so all I’m going to say is that you should read it.

Themes and meaning

So why am I talking about a horror comic on the day after Father’s Day?

Well, the importance of family and the things that parents will do to protect their children is a major theme of the story.

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Sure, there’s the obvious issue of Charlie trying to save his daughter from the very real monsters that want to eat her.

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But it goes deeper than that.

Charlie spends most of the time he has with his daughter trying to help her deal with her anxiety and what I can only assume is a pretty bad case of PTSD.

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There’s actually a really gut wrenching scene near the end of the book that’s a flash back to Charlie snapping at his daughter for what he perceives as weakness.

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This is contrasted with his wife, who wants to forget everything and start over.

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She has her reasons, but to talk about them is something that I don’t want to spoil.

Wytches is an expertly written, incredibly well drawn, and horrifying modern parable on the dangers and fears of modern parenting and I would actually go as far as to say that it would probably make a very good Father’s Day gift.

Assuming your dad likes this sort of stuff.

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Golden Age Showcase: Alfred

Happy post Father’s Day everyone!

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For the non American readers of this blog, Father’s day is a holiday where we celebrate our fathers, and if marketing campaigns are to be believed it’s usually with MANLY gifts like ties and power tools.

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Last year I did an article comparing and contrasting two of comics’ greatest deceased father figures: Superman’s dad Jor-El and Spiderman’s Uncle Ben.

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This time I thought it would be time to break out the big guns and celebrate the career and achievements of the greatest living father figure in comic book history: Batman’s butler, Alfred.

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Side note: if you disagree with the above statement please write a well crafted and polite rebuttal in the comments.

Origin and Career

Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth made his first appearance in Batman #16 in April of 1943.

On the cover of the comic it says he was created by artist Bob Kane.

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Although it is much more likely that actual creator was writer, and the man who got royally screwed out of getting the credit that he justly deserves, Bill Finger.

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Artist Jerry Robinson was also heavily involved, since he was busy doing the actual drawing of the issues at this point in Batman’s career.

Jerry Robinson

Alfred made his first appearance on the cover of the issue, and he looked like this:

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The original Alfred was a bit of an idiot.  At this point in the story Batman and Robin had been doing their thing fighting crime in Gotham when Alfred showed up fresh off the boat and claiming that he was fulfilling the wish of his dying father Jarvis in serving the Wayne family as their butler.

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Naturally, Batman and Robin were not very keen on having a near total stranger snooping around the house with their secret identities at stake.

Despite his background as an intelligence officer Alfred was…kind of an idiot.

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I only say “kind of” because he was actually a very good butler.  He did his job, he was loyal to Bruce and Dick, and when it came time to defend the Manor he wound up discovering who he was really working for by pure accident.

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My favorite part of this scene is the dialogue that the two men exchange during the fight.

Of course Alfred reveals what he knows to Batman and Robin and the two gain a new ally in their fight against criminals.

You may notice that the original Alfred doesn’t look a thing like the way we normally picture Alfred.

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For that we can actually thank the silver screen.

See, the idea that comic books could be adapted to the silver screen is nothing new.  In fact, Hollywood was quick to jump on the wave of superhero popularity and started churning out short little movie serials staring the two most popular heroes at the time: Superman and Batman.

In 1943 Columbia Pictures began releasing short Batman serial movies with creative titles such as “Batman and the Electrical Brain”,

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The effects and costumes were…not the best.

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but one of its lasting impacts was hiring actor English character actor William Austin to play the Batman’s butler.

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The serials were so popular that the comics adapted and changed Alfred’s appearance to reflect the show.

So what happened?

Jesus, to describe everything that Alfred has done since his original appearance would take an entire book.

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Wherever Batman has gone, Alfred has followed.  He’s an integral part of the Batman mythos, and I would personally argue that he the most important supporting figure in any Batman story.  And yes, that includes figures like Robin and Batgirl.

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He has fulfilled the role of a caretaker, a guiding moral compass to a whole host of emotionally crippled children and warriors, and most importantly an eternally patient father figure.

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So, in an effort to keep this short, I’m going to break his long and storied career down into some of the more prominent highlights.

In 1964 Alfred was killed in Detective Comics #328 after heroically saving the Dynamic Duo from a falling boulder.

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He would be reborn as a mysterious villain known as “The Outsider” and fought the heroes off panel, usually using other villains as pawns and working behind the scenes.

His identity and appearance would be revealed two years later in Detective Comics #356.

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It…wasn’t the best look for him and I can see why they kept him out of the way.

In terms of backstory, Alfred’s has remained pretty consistent.  The comics have always given him some sort of military and/or intelligence background and in the 1960’s he worked as an intelligence agent during World War 2.  We know this because he had a daughter named Julia with a French co worker.

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In 1985 DC reorganized its comic books with the even “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and reworked the backstories of many of their most famous characters.

Alfred got a few minor tweaks but didn’t change that much.  He was an actor as well as an intelligence agent and instead of introducing himself to a much older Bruce, he became Bruce’s butler and confidant at a young age.

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The new Alfred had some pretty awesome moments as well and a lot of writers love giving him some really badass lines and small fight scenes.

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Seriously, the man’s gone toe to toe with Superman both in quips,

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and with fisticuffs.

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So he’s amazing in the comics but I would have to say that his film and television appearances deserve a special mention as well.

Alfred has appeared in every single movie, television, and cartoon adaptation of Batman since the beginning and has provided a steady stream of employment to classy senior British actors.

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All of them have been fantastic, but special mentions go to the Alfred from Batman: The Animated Series,

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where he was voiced by actor Clive Revill (who was actually the original voice of the Emperor from Star Wars)

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and the gloriously named Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

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Personally my favorite Alfred at the moment has to be the one from The Lego Batman Movie where he was voiced by Voldemort himself, Ray Finnes,

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but if you ask me the best Alfred of them all would have to be the late great Michael Gough from Tim Burton’s Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and the infamous Batman and Robin.

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I would actually go as far as to say that Michael Gough was so good that he actually made Batman and Robin halfway watchable.

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That’s right, I’m defending Batman and Robin, fight me.

Alfred is one of the greatest comic book characters ever created.  He is wise and talented beyond even his considerable years and has been at Bruce’s side through thick and thin.  Not only has he been a faithful and dutiful butler but he has been a kind, patient, and loving father to a boy who needed it most in order to become one of the greatest superheroes of all time.

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Comic book showcase: Truth: Red, White, and Black

Today is Martin Luther King day.

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Now, we’ve been writing this blog series for a long time and when an important holiday happens to fall on a Monday, we like to find some sort of superhero and/or comic book that fits within the theme for that holiday.

When it’s the 4th of July we like to do a patriotic superhero,

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when it’s Halloween we like to do a horror themed blog post,

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and for holidays such as Martin Luther King day, we like to talk about black superheroes.

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We’ve briefly talked about the history of black men and women in comic books before, but today I thought we could break tradition and talk about an actual comic book series that was published in 2003 and uses one of the worst events in American history to tell a damn good story.

Today we’re going to talk about Truth: Red, White, and Black.

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Origin and history

WARNING: We are about to discuss a historical event that involves some very questionable ethics, upsetting imagery, and a rather frank discussion of race relations in America.  It may cause some people discomfort but talking about this is necessary in order to make sure something like this never happens again.

Between 1932 and 1972 the United States Public Health Service conducted a long running experiment known as “The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment” where they purposely infected 600 black men in rural Alabama with syphilis in order to study the long term effects of the disease.

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As if that wasn’t bad enough, the people running the study never told these men what was going on.  Instead, all the test subjects were informed that they were simply receiving free healthcare and medical treatment.

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This vile experiment continued until the program was shut down in 1972 after the project was discovered and public outcry grew too strong.

Although the study was shut down and $10 million dollars were paid out in reparations after a class action lawsuit in 1974 it remains one of the darkest chapters in American history.

The Comic

In January of 2003 comic book writer Robert Morales pitched an idea to Marvel’s editor in chief Joe Quesada that told an alternate story behind the serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America.

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As many of us know, the true recipe for the super soldier serum was destroyed after creating Captain America, but that didn’t stop the Allies and the Nazis from trying to replicate it and making more super soldiers.

What followed was as series of experiments to see if the formula could be replicated.  In the case of the Allies, they forced a regiment of African Amerian soldiers to act as human guinea pigs for the serum, because people are awful and mid 20th century America didn’t really care about black people.

The results were catastrophic and disturbing.

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...and the horror that ensued, graphic illustration of a moral low-point in human and US history.

However, five test subjects did survive to be sent off to the war and one manged to come home.  His name was Isaiah Bradley and he was the first black Captain America.

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Despite having every right to be pissed off at the people giving him orders, Isaiah did his job and did it well.  He managed to swipe one of Captain America’s spare shields and uniforms and kick a lot of Nazi butt.

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He was even captured by the Nazis but was rescued before he could be dissected and studied.

His country decided to reward his bravery and accomplishments by court marshaling him and throwing him into prison in 1943 because sometimes life just takes a steaming dump on you and there is nothing you can do about it.

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He was later pardoned by President Eisenhower in 1960.

At the end of the series, Steve Rogers managed to find out about the program that created Isaiah and tried to make things better.  Unfortunately, the serum had a debilitating effect on Isaiah’s mind and he suffered Alzheimer’s like symptoms until he had the mental capacity of a child.

The last panel of the series is one of the most heartbreaking and sweetest panels I’ve ever seen.

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Impact of the comic

Within the Marvel Universe, Isaiah Bradley became a symbol and a living legend within the black community.

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Also, he served as a grandfather like figure and inspiration to many of Marvel’s black superheroes.  Even Black Panther gives him a massive amount of respect.

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While he was immensely popular with other black heroes he remained unknown by many white superheroes

Sadly, even after he did his time and served his country the United States government tried to use him and duplicate the experiment.  They wound up creating a clone that was born from a surrogate mother.  The child managed to escape and named himself Josiah X.

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Isaiah also had a grandson named Elijah Bradly who would go on to become the superhero Patriot.

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I’ve talked about race relations in comic books before.  When the industry really started taking off it was not kind to men and women of color.  While I do think things have gotten  better there is still a wide discrepancy between black creators and superheroes and white creators and superheroes in terms of audience and exposure.  But, thankfully things are getting even better and I believe only good things are in store for the future.

Truth: Red, White, and Black is one of the most brutal and uncompromising comic books out there and it is well worth your time and money.  It takes one of the ugliest events in American history and manages to turn it into something that is not only educational but one of the sweetest and most important comic book stories in the past twenty years.

Thank you for reading this article!  Besides weekly blog posts about comic books and superheroes Cambrian Comics also publishes a bi weekly web comic called “The Secret Lives of Villains” and the first volume is up for sale on Amazon here!  If you enjoyed this article please feel free to support us by picking up a copy.  Thanks again!