Wytches, the acclaimed series by Scott Snyder, Jock, Matthew Hollinsworth and Clem Robins, reaches the beginning of a 2-part first arc finale this week with Issue #5, as I discovered officially only after reading the comic, and then I felt–a brief concern that could have easily turned into a bigger upset before I re-read the text and carefully noted the "first arc" part of the phrase. No, this series is not ending any time soon, thank God, and Image, and the creative team.
But it does mean structurally that it leaves us guessing a little. I recall way back when before the series started (late last summer) that Scott Snyder seemed to hint that he had plans for the series getting bigger and taking on different sets of characters who may have "pledged" people to the Wytches or been affected by pledges. So, while I'm starting to notice that could be on the horizon, I also want a satisfying sense of the Rooks family not only somehow getting through all this, but also getting to the bottom of all this, and discovering why Sailor is so tasty to the Wytches in their recruitment scheme. But this is a horror comic of probably far greater intensity than any of us had the sense to expect when we started reading the series, and we know happy endings are the rarity and not the norm in this genre. I place a fairly safe bet that it's going to be a very changed Rooks family after these events regardless of who lives and who dies.
However, let's narrow the lens and look closely at Issue #5 since we sure as hell aren't at the end of the road for the Rooks yet. In Issue #4, the pace and the degree of violent conflict really escalated to a new level as Charlie Rooks became confrontational in what others were perceiving to be a delirium induced by a mild head injury in the woods, took off to confront his former intruder, the bald woman, and learned more than he ever wanted to know about the reality of the Wytches and their affect on the local society. But could he really believe it? Heading home, he encountered his wife who seemed strange. Issue #4 ended with the possibility that something terrible had happened based on Wytch "magic" and that Sailor was beginning to be erased from the human memories of those closest to her, the better for the Wytches to claim her. Sailor, by contrast, we left in a subterranean, super-heated Wytch lair struggling against her own tendency to panic and give up.
Bear with me while I carefully side-step spoilers to talk about Issue #5. This issue is going to take us pretty much into hell and not yet back again. One of the big reveals of Issues #3 and #4 were incidents from Charlie Rooks' past as a father that probably made us want to give him a swift kick or two, or at least call social services, but they illustrated that Rooks had struggled with drinking too much, struggled with his own anxieties and those he appeared to have passed on to Sailor, and had discovered how his own way of coping with anxiety—extreme risk-taking behavior—was not necessarily a legacy he should pass on to her.
Early on in the comic you may have noticed that Rooks has a tattoo of a Ferris Wheel on his upper arm. At the time, I thought it was whimsically out of character, but by last issue I should have realized what the tattoo represents. That's why I included the above variant cover to have a look at as well. Well, this is my own theory at least: The Ferris Wheel is the symbol of Charlie's greatest failure and his determination to keep sober. The Wheel represents, for Charlie, the moment when he became a monster in the attempt to be a hero. I point that out now because in Issue #6, we have a prolonged conversation between Charlie and Sailor set after the Ferris Wheel incident (I think) where we see the tattoo featured prominently and he's going to address her personality and issues, and why she doesn't have to be someone else or overcome her fears through the same strategies as he uses. It's fairly clear that Charlie acted like a monster at the Ferris Wheel, encouraging his child to risk their life to please him and prove themselves, and yet in his drunken haze he probably thought he was "toughening" Sailor up and readying her for the struggles of life.
Sober, he realizes the monster he became. He knows what he is and the potential monstrousness inside him now, and I have to say that over the course of the past few issues, Charlie has become fairly monstrous through lashing out, screaming, being demanding, seen perpetually at his wit's end. In this issue, you'll see Jock contorting his facial features into even greater extremes of emotion, determination, fear, and blind instinct while Hollingsworth spatters the color impressions that I've always thought connected to Charlie's perspective of the world with a kind of fury not unlike Charlie's emotional state. He almost becomes the example of a human animal in contrast to the alienness of the Wytch creatures and their world. And we'll follow Charlie into hell this issue, deep into hell, where Sailor already resides.
Which of them is strong enough to overcome their worst fears? Will the parental urge to protect Sailor be enough to turn Charlie into a greater monster than we've even seen before? Terrifying, but in protector animal mode somehow acceptable? It does feel like his entire life and fate rests on this attempt to save her. What could be more fueled by desperation than the attempt to save the life of a child you've let down before? Charlie has a lot to prove to Sailor and to himself.
Many of the things I love about Wytches are strongly pronounced in this issue, but the prevailing one is the sense that there is no predetermined ending. Anything could happen. Things really do depend on human action and the forces at work in the world of the comic that we do not fully understand. Sailor and Charlie are examples of resistance against those forces and when they seem small, weak, embattled, nearly lost, that's when their little actions and speeches stand out the most as examples of human nature and the endless capacity human beings seem to have for defiance.
Wytches #5 arrives in shops and on digital platforms this Wednesday, March 25th.
Stay tuned on Bleeding Cool for a special advance look at Scott Snyder's essay from Wytches #5 on Tuesday.