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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Crowdfunded comics that deserve more attention: The Arcane Cocktail Enthusiast

Today we’re talking about a Kickstarter comic called The Arcane Cocktail Enthusiast.

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The comic is written and created by Jeff Rider and drawn by Dave Puppo.

The story is about a bar owner named Lark Leraar.

Lark Leraar, the Arcane Cocktail Enthusiast herself!

She owns an establishment called The Archanist, which she also uses as a base and secret lair to practice magic.

Sample pages for ARCANE COCKTAIL ENTHUSIAST #1

The comic is seeking funding for its first issue and at the time of writing has raised $1,883 out of $3,500 with fifteen days left to donate.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cloudwrangler/the-arcane-cocktail-enthusiast-print-edition-comic?ref=av0qnc

Why I like it

I don’t drink very much.

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Sure I’ll indulge a bit in social settings, but when it comes to the consumption of alcohol I am a complete lightweight and too poor and too busy to explore the subtle differences between types of scotch.

But while the idea of a magical bartender serving magical drinks doesn’t excite me personally, I do find it incredibly interesting from a historical point of view, and and if you ask anyone who knows me in the slightest they will tell you that I do loooove me some history.

Let me explain.  Since the beginning of human history we have spent a lot of time trying to figure out new and exciting ways to get drunk.

The Egyptians invented one of the earliest recipes for beer and even paid laborers with booze.

The Babylonians took their beer so seriously that if they caught a brewer tampering with his or her product, they killed him by drowning the offender in it.

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And during the Middle Ages most of the brewing, distribution, and sale of booze was done by women.  You could always tell who was a brewer with their trademark pointed cap, a broom like whisk for filtering out lumps of material from their cauldron brew, and a cat to help keep away rats and mice from the grain.

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If the above image looks like a stereotypical witch you’re not wrong.  There are some who would say that our modern interpretation of witchcraft was a widespread propaganda campaign to get women out of brewing beer.

The point is that the creation of alcohol has had an important, almost magical, place in human history.  Makes sense really, booze made you feel good and anyone who could get you drunk better than anyone else must have seemed like a wizard.

The Arcane Cocktail Enthusiast takes this idea and gives it a modern update and I think that is really cool.

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Not only does it put a modern twist on this idea, it uses it to tell a story about an awesome lady who goes out and fights a manticore with nothing but her magically enhanced hands.

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That’s pretty awesome.

Why you should donate

Of course, these days we’re not big fans of magic and coffee has become the dominant brain altering drink of choice.

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But while we may be men and women of science and rational thought, we still have our own brand of sorcery that we use to turn certain people who make our food into insanely rich gods.

I am, of course, talking about celebrity chefs.

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Sure, these guys aren’t witches or warlocks, but you have to admit that there’s something magical about watching food being prepared.

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Hell, we love this so much that we have entire channel on the television where we just watch people cook and eat food.

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But if we have dedicated all this time and effort into praising the accomplishments of the people that make our food, what about the people who prepare our drinks?

Where are our celebrity brewers and bartenders?

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As I stated in the previous section, our ancestors practically worshiped the creation and consumption of alcohol.  Today?  Not so much.

Don’t get me wrong, we still hold a place of reverence for things like microbreweries and bartenders who can but a bit of flair into their job,

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but I think it’s safe to say that the bartender and brewer has been greatly overshadowed by the chef in today’s culture.

Don’t you think it’s time that bartenders got the same respect and attention that we give celebrity chefs?  Don’t you think it’s time that we elevated the people who serve us alcohol to the place of respect that they once held?  Don’t you think it’s time to put the magic back into a beverage that has been so important to human history?

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I sure as heck think so.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cloudwrangler/the-arcane-cocktail-enthusiast-print-edition-comic?ref=av0qnc

Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Prison Witch

Today we are going to talk about a comic book project seeking funding on Kickstarter called Prison Witch.

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The project is a seventy page graphic novel about a woman who works to control her latent magical abilities in prison with the help of a secret coven of witches.

At the time of writing the project as already hit its funding goal with $8,651 out of $8,500 raised and has 14 days left in the campaign.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/248241887/prison-witch-a-graphic-novel-about-magic-love-and?ref=category&ref=discovery

Why I like it

For starters the artwork is fantastic.

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The comic is created by husband and wife team Pat and Amy Shand, with Erica D’Urso providing the artwork.  Her ability to convey tiny little moments of great emotion is awe inspiring and you can tell the book is going to be an emotional roller coaster without any words.

But what really intrigues me about this book is the possibility of combining the subject matter with the setting.

I like to dabble in storytelling from time to time and for me, magic is a way to build a character without having to rely on boring exposition.

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A wizard who controls fire will probably have a different personality than a wizard who can raise the dead.  Magic is an extension of its user and can be used as a sort of visual shorthand for their personality and beliefs.

Prisons are supposed to be a place where people who have done something wrong go to reflect on their deeds and work towards reforming themselves.

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In some countries the intention is to turn criminals into functioning members of society, in others it’s a place where dissidents and critics of the status quo are sent to…change their mind.  Here in America it clearly isn’t the case because if it was, we would be the most introspective and thoughtful nations on the planet.

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Yes, the land of the free does put way to many people in prison.

So what happens when you have a collection of people who have their personalities displayed through spells and witch craft stuck in a place that is designed to change and mold a person into something different?

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I have no idea, but I can’t wait to find out.

Why you should donate

I don’t know if anybody reading this post knows this, but during the 1970’s there was a very specific and popular genre of films specifically about women in prison.

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With a poster like that it’s quite apparent that these movies were somber, thoughtful affairs that talked about the harsh realities of prison life and gave a voice to some of the most vulnerable people in modern society and…

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nope.  The movies were porn with a bit more attention on the plot and slightly higher production values.

Now to be fair, it wasn’t like all the films were total trash.  Johnathen Demme, the man who made Silence of the Lambs,

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got his big break after directing a Roger Corman prison film called Caged Heat.

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The film was actually pretty well reviewed and it did delve into some actual social commentary, but it was still a bunch of pretty women with no hope, no way out, and almost no clothing.

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Rather thankfully, times and tastes change and I say it’s time for the women in prison genre to get a modern update that treats its characters like actual human beings and uses its subject matter to talk about important and socially relevant issues.

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Okay, so there’s that but I bet there isn’t a comic that does…

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dammit.

Okay, so revising the women in prison genre for modern tastes is well trodden ground, but Prison Witch takes the genre and does something different with it.

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By combining the wonder and mystery of magic with the drama and emotional pain of prison life, Prison Witch is set to create a story filled with wonder, mystery, introspection, and one hell of an emotional gut punch.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/248241887/prison-witch-a-graphic-novel-about-magic-love-and?ref=category&ref=discovery

 

Golden Age Showcase: Spider Widow

So I saw Spiderman: Homecoming yesterday.

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It was good, I liked it, and it’s good to know that Spiderman is back in the loving arms of the company that spawned him.

You can make the case that Spiderman is the closest thing Marvel Comics has to a mascot, or at the very least he’s Marvel’s most successful solo hero.

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And what’s not to like about him?  He’s got a great gimmick, he’s got a great backstory, and he’s one of the best creations to come out of the mind of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

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But here’s the thing, great ideas like this don’t just come from nothing, and there were spider themed superheroes published in the 1940’s.  One of these heroes was a Quality Comics character named Spider Widow.

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Origin and Career

Spider Widow first appeared in Quality Comics’ Feature Comics #57 in June of 1942.

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She was created by comic book artist Frank Borth.

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While he did do some work for a Catholic magazine called Treasure Chest and did occasional work for Cracked (the magazine not the website), Spider Widow was his most popular creation.

As for her bio, her civilian identity was Dianne Grayton, rich socialite and lady about town.

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How did she get her powers?  Not mentioned.  Why did she decide to fight crime?  The comic didn’t seem to care.  What was her power?  She dressed up like an old hag and had the ability to control black widow spiders,

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swarms of them.

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You sure this is a superhero comic?  Because I’m getting more of a horror vibe from this.

Her enemies weren’t that special.  She fought the traditional assortment of stereotypical racist caricatures of Axis saboteurs.  What made her pretty unique was what Qualiy did with her.  First, they paired her with a superhero named the Raven, who made his first appearance in her title.

The story was simple.  Axis spies kidnapped her because she was meddling in their affairs a bit too much and the Raven swooped in and saved her.

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The day was saved, the two shared a thank you kiss, but sadly it was dark so they couldn’t see each other’s faces.

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The Raven was later revealed to be a man named Tony Grey, and the two wound up forming a romantic relationship on top of their crime fighting.

One of their more notable adventures was when they teamed up to fight Spider Man, a Nazi saboteur who controlled a giant robotic spider.

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Nazis controlling giant spiders?  NOPE! SOUND THE ALARMS!  PREPARE THE TERMS OF SURRENDER!

Now, two comic book heroes coming together in a comic isn’t really that special, but bringing in another hero and crossing over in two books?  That was pretty unique for the time.

I don’t know why they chose her, but Quality Comics had The Raven crossover with another Quality character named The Phantom Lady in Police Comics #20 in 1943.

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She wound up rescuing the Raven while he was investigating a crime ring and he brought her from Police Comics to Feature Comics for a couple of issues.

The two ladies did not get along very well.

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Plus, I’m willing to bet the writers were venting some pent up frustrations in the book through some impressively subtle fourth wall breaks.

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Look at the second to last panel and tell me you aren’t a bit impressed.

The two even went as far as to fight a duel for the Raven’s affections,

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but it turned out to be a set up by some criminals and they quickly patched it over.  The day was saved and then everyone went back to their own titles.

So what happened?

Aside from her crossover with the Phantom Lady, Spider Widow wasn’t really that popular or noteworthy.  She lasted for a couple more issues and then disappeared around 1943.

It’s kind of a shame because she really did have a great gimmick and power set.  Sure she was pretty boring as a person, and having her fight with another lady over a man probably won’t score her a whole lot of points with modern audiences, but she is in the public domain and could be a great horror protagonist.

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While I don’t want to mistake correlation for causation, you can kind of see something resembling Spider Widow’s legacy in Marvel’s more modern characters.

For example. what’s the name of Marvel’s favorite super spy femme fatale?  Black Widow.

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Sure, she doesn’t have the power to control spiders but I like to think the creatives at Marvel were remembering Spider Widow when they came up with her.

Also, there was a villain in the Spider Man books named Spider Queen who had the power to control insects,

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(yes I know spiders aren’t insects),

Sure, she’s not a wealthy heiress and controlling insects isn’t exactly a rare power, but it seems that Marvel has a pretty pronounced fascination with spiders and I like to think that Spider Widow was a start.

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