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: Stardust the Super Wizard.

You know what I really like about comics?  The scope and scale of the medium.

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Sure, in any artistic medium you can tell big stories, but in comics?  Comics are the new mythology, giving us larger than life characters that serve as brightly colored allegories for the larger world.

The Golden Age of Comics had their myths and legends but let’s be honest with ourselves…they were somewhat limited.

It makes sense I guess.  After all, a lot of people were pressuring creators to churn out new superheroes as quickly as possible and there are only so many ways you can copy heroes like Superman or Batman.  Plus, our country was faced with an actual larger than life event known as World War 2 so those heroes were tasked with winning the war, but surely there had to be some way to inject a little grandiosity into the comic book scene.

Where’s the magic?  Where’s the ridiculousness?  Where’s the cosmic scale of it all?

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Oh, this’ll be interesting.

Origin and Career

Stardust the Super Wizard, a giant space magician with super strength and a tiny head,

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was first published in Fantastic Comics #1 in December of 1939.

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The title was published by Fox Features Syndicate, who published the first Blue Beetle, and created by writer and artist Fletcher Hanks.

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Hanks is also responsible for creating one of the first female characters in comics, a woman named Fantomah.

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Hanks was something of an elder statesman for a comic book industry that was dominated by teenagers.  He specialized in creating supernatural characters who had no qualms about wrecking terrible revenge against their antagonists and Stardust was no exception.

His origins are simple.  He’s a mysterious super being who descends from the stars to wreck terrible retribution on criminals everywhere.  Everyone knows this this due to a strange radio broadcast that tells them everything.

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What’s his backstory?  Where does he come from?  Nobody knows.

What we do know is that his powers are seemingly limitless, and he demonstrates his power against two thugs who are just about to assassinate the President.

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It’s pretty clear that our hero is a giant and has more powers than Superman did at his height.

It’s worth mentioning that Stardust also partakes in one of the hallmarks of the Golden Age of comics: the hero murdering hoards of criminals and evil doers in brutal fashion.

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The first story sets the tone for most of the Stardust stories as the hero defeats a series of increasingly over the top and surprisingly well equipped enemies with unimaginable violence.  While he would only last for 16 issues, each one of them is pretty epic and worth checking out.

It’s worth mentioning that Stardust didn’t just police Earth, he dedicated his life to busting crime all across the solar system from his private star base.

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He had enemies with creative names like Kaos of Venus, the Brain Men of Mars, and Yew Bee.

My personal favorite is the story where our hero faces the evil machinations of an arch criminal named De Structo, who plans to use an oxygen destroying ray to suffocate the political leadership of the United States.

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No I’m not making any of that up.

Stardust captures De Structo and punishes him by removing the villain’s head, keeping it alive, and throwing it to an alien beast known as a “giant headhunter”.

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Funny how the headhunter alien looks suspiciously human.  Also, that is not a good way to go.

So what happened?

As I stated above, Stardust only lasted for 16 issues.  I have no idea why he didn’t last longer and can only assume that people were allergic to fun and epicness.

Thankfully, all was not lost and it turned out that Fletcher Hanks had developed something of a cult following.  All of his Golden Age stories were collected into anthologies and are currently published by Fantagraphics Books.

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Also, it turns out that Stardust is a superhero that has greatly benefited from being in the public domain since he has actually appeared in a lot of other independent projects.

Some of his more notable appearances have been in Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,

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He also had a cameo in Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon #141.

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He’s also been used in a genre that we don’t talk a lot about on this blog: table top games.  His name was used as an example of how power corrupts in The Super Villain Handbook by Fainting Goat Games.

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Stardust the Super Wizard may have had a short career in the Golden Age, but it was a career filled with memorable events and villains.  He’s remembered fondly today and his reputation is well deserved.

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Cambrian Comics Friday Showcase: My favorite comic #2

Today we’re back from Boston Comic Con (we’ll be posting pictures over the next couple of weeks on our Facebook page) so now we’re starting right were we left off.  My second favorite comic book series is another title from Image Comics and the strongest argument I’ve ever seen for creator owned, written, and produced work.

2. Saga (Image Comics)

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Writer: Brian K. Vaughn

Artist: Fiona Staples

Issues (as of writing): 30

Saga is brought to us by comic book and screen writer Brian K. Vaughn whose resume is one of the most impressive out there to date.

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(note: he worked on the show from season 3-5)

Here he teams up with artist Fiona Staples who is widely considered one of the greatest comic book artists around today.

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Together they created Saga, a science fiction epic about two soldiers from opposing sides who fall in love and have to travel across the universe to raise and protect their child all while dodging monsters, assassins, and their former cohorts in a story that combines elements of Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and Romeo and Juliet.

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First and foremost the set up and character archetypes are unbelievably cliche.  I’m serious, if you’ve seen any science fiction movie in the past 30 years you can guess what’s probably going to happen.  Boy meets girl, they fall in love, they run away but can’t run fast enough to escape the forces pursuing them, people die in tragic circumstances, it’s all very sad.  And with all due respect to Ms. Staples, the artwork does not lend itself very well towards traditional sci fi.  When you hear the words “science fiction” a lot of people think of this

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not this

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So we have a cliche plot coupled with artwork that seems a bit weird to someone more used to traditional sci fi

But this comic is much more than that and absolutely (pardon my language) fucking nails it!

This comic could very easily be a Star Wars knockoff or a Romeo and Juliet clone but it isn’t.  Vaughn’s stellar writing makes all these characters unique, complex, and truly gripping.  In the best kind of written traditions no character is completely good or evil, everyone has their own hopes and dreams that make you want to root for them and their own flaws that make you want to scream at the comic book when they do something really stupid.

Consider the man in the picture above.  His name is The Will and he is a freelance assassin tasked with hunting down the two literal star crossed lovers.

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As you can see The Will is incredibly capable (and yes this is a very violent image, more on that later) and incredibly deadly.  But he is much more than that.  Over the course of the comic he goes from apathetic about his life and work to rescuing a child prostitute and starting his own little twisted family (I won’t dare say anymore and risk spoiling the plot, go read this book).  He even has a cat that can tell if you’re lying or not.

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And this brings me to the two main characters, Alana and Marko, who are now officially my favorite couple in any form of media.

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I mentioned that this comic is a bit…risque and that is absolutely true.  This is NOT a comic book for children. There’s blood, gore, sex, cursing, sex, violence, and did I mention sex?  But all of this goes towards making the two main characters very tender, very touching, and very believable.  Sure Alana and Marko have a child that they have to take care of and keep away from forces much larger than themselves and sure they did fall in love at first sight but the comic takes the next logical step and shows what really happens to couples when that first rush of true love wears off.  One minute the couple is happy, the next they are fighting and bickering, the next their running for their lives, and the next moment they’ve made up and proceed to screw each other’s brains out.  You know, how normal couples act.

And as for the art…

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saga-vol-1-screen-2Fiona Staples has some of the best emotional drawing I have ever seen and her position as one of the best artists out there today is well deserved.

This comic is like nothing I, or anyone else, has ever seen.  It tells one of the best modern love stories while being set in a bizarre, quirky, violent, sexy, and fascinating universe that I just can’t get enough of.