The Witching Hour
Artists: Steve Beach, Gerhard Human, Cliff Chiang, Annie Mok, Emily Carroll, Ming Doyle, Shawn McManus, Morgan Jeske, Mark Buckingham, Victor Santos, Tula Lotay
Colorists: John Kalisz, Giulia Brusco, Jordie Bellaire, Travis Lanham
Publisher: Vertigo Comics
The Witching Hour is an anthology by a mixture of new and long-establishing comics talents to tell eight page stories that somehow deal with ghosts and witches. Some of the stories are scary. Others are emotional or funny. They have a wide variety of settings from 19th Century England to a future mission to Mars. The majority of them deal with some kind of problem, like war, child abuse, homophobia, misogyny, or just plain hate. The best thing about anthologies is even if one story is horrid, there are two or three you will probably enjoy. Here are capsule sized reviews of all the stories with my personal thoughts about them.
The first story is “Daniel” by writer/artist Travis Beach. It chronicles the life of three young witches and their friend, an elderly gay man named Charles Morrison. This story is the simplest of the bunch, and none of the characters are really fleshed out, except Charles. The witches add an element of fear to his betrayal of his old lover Daniel, but they are mostly extraneous. Beach’s figure drawing is like a twisted version of a Mad cover and can be quite creepy at times. Overall, this is an average story by a first time comics creator.
The next story “Birdie” is a sci-fi/occult/crime comic by Lauren Beukes and Gehard Human. It is about a witch named Birdie, who lives in a future South Africa and gets special tokens from seagulls that she gives to people. Beukes uses Birdie’s special abilities to make insights about the good and bad sides of human nature and the consequences of magic. Colorist Giulia Brisco uses a lighter color gradient when Birdie is helping an old lady remember her husband and darker one when a gangster learns the true cause of his brother’s death. The art and script (peppered with South African slang) turn an eight page story into a haunting look at human nature.
“Mars to Stay” (Written by Brett Lewis; Art by Cliff Chiang) is one of the best of the bunch. It is a sci-fi horror story with a twist ending and follows the first human colony on Mars as part of a reality show. The story is a satire of how so-called “reality television” brings out the monstrous in human beings. The contrast between Chiang’s art and Lewis’ caption boxes shows how the media skews who people really are. As well as being a sharp satire, “Mars to Stay” has an entertaining plot and good world building for an eight page short story.
“The Witch’s Work” (Story/Art by Annie Mok and Emily Carroll) uses a mix of collage, pencil sketches, and colored caption boxes to tell the story of a transgendered cyborg who becomes a witch. The contrast between horrific (monsters, scenes of abuse) and mundane (making a cup of tea, turning on the radio) gives real emotional depth to its protagonist, Reina. The ending is especially powerful as the scattered bits of color become a single beautiful image.
“Legs” (Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick; Art by Ming Doyle) mixes science, sorcery, and character in a dark fairy tale that deals with the problem of misogyny. The main character is a scientist named Ellen, who studies arachnids and continues in the tradition of DeConnick’s strong female heroines, like Captain Marvel and Ghost. Ming Doyle uses panel structures to give the illusion of spider webs in several pivotal scenes which drives home the spider metaphor which becomes hauntingly literal. This story has strong characterization and inventive art which bring this twisted world of magic, scientific discovery, and horror to life.
“Fellow Travelers” (Written by Matthew Sturges; Art by Shawn McManus) has a heavy-handed message, but it is the funniest and most entertaining story in a predominantly dark and dreary anthology. In a clever bit of world-building, it follows a playwright named Arthur and a witch named Norma as they escape from FBI witch hunters in the 1950s. McManus’ art is kinetic and nails the feeling of a car chase through Washington DC. The narrative skips around a lot, but the twists make up for the occasionally dense plot. And it might have the best ending of any comic this year.
“Little Witch” (Written by Ales Kot; Art by Morgan Jeske) is a slice of life tale about an American soldier trying to adopt a young girl from Afghanistan, who happens to be a witch. Kot pulls the reader’s heartstrings with his script, and Jeske’s art does not shy away from the brutality of war or the witch’s parents to her. The emotion conveyed through facial emotions (the soldier lying in bed with his wife) makes “Little Witch” a good story even though it barely deals with magic or horror.
“Dead Boy Detectives Run Ragged” (Written by Toby Litt; Art by Mark Buckingham and Victor Santos) is the only story that leads into an ongoing series. It shows the adventures of the young ghostly boy detectives Edwin and Charles along with their new compatriot Ginger. There are some grisly images involving domestic animals in this issue, but there is plenty of humor in the interactions between the detectives and their female counterparts Maggie and Libby. Even though it is a bit truncated, “Run Ragged” is an excellent teaser for the upcoming Dead Boy Detectives series.
“Rise” (Written by Mariah Huehner; Art by Tula Lotay) has an unlikeable protagonist, but some wonderfully trippy art and dark humor. The main character is a world weary twenty something who is wandering and complaining across England. She meets a ghost witch, and hijinks ensue. This story mixes the ghost and witch stories that are prominent in this anthology and has some scenes of gruesome carnage. It doesn’t have any social commentary, but just tells a bone-chilling story.