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Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Witching Hour

Writers: Jeph Loeb and Chris Bachalo
Pencils: Chris Bachalo
Inks: Art Thibert
Colours: Grant Goleash
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Publisher: Vertigo

featuring an introduction by Gene Simmons

What’s It About?
There are five witches: elegant Miss White, “combustible” Red, fatherly Gray, silent Blue and young Black who speaks in quotations. They move through the mortal world of New York seeking to do good and enact some justice in the world. They intrude on mortal lives for a moment, offering a precious second chance, a single wish, what a person does with that chance is up to them.

What’s Good About It?
The Witching Hour is an agreeably complex book. The narrative switches between the five witches and their individual missions, between locations and times in a way that in most books would seem schizophrenic. In this case, however, the frequent jumps between times and places adds to an unreal, dreamlike quality in the story. We don’t need to know how on one page Miss White is with her psychiatrist in New York and the next she’s in the Nevada desert with Red but the fact that it goes unexplained adds to the magic of the affair.

The situations the witches find themselves in aren’t great, mystical battles but dealing with the mundane evils of everyday life: a woman with a drug addiction or a daughter resentful of her father’s infidelities. The witches pass into these people’s lives briefly, giving them the chance to redeem or damn themselves.

Next to these human stories are the magical antics of the witches, not just the magic they weave into the lives of these mortals but the story of their origins. These more magical sections, full of surreal moments like a meeting of witches in a gorilla cage and distinctively drawn flashbacks. Both levels of the story, the mundane and the magical, are character studies, brief and well-executed windows into a series of well-realised characters.

Cleverly written and distinctively drawn (as we’ll get to later), this book definitely offers something different. Much of the draw of the book, however, comes from Bachalo’s art style, as we’ll now examine…

What’s the Art Like?
A versatile artist, Chris Bachalo illustrates The Witching Hour in three distinct styles. The first, the one used for the majority of the book, is a simple series of left-to-right sequential panels:

This is used for most of the book for the sections portraying the modern, mundane world. Its your basic comicbook style, not especially flashy of itself. As above, Bachalo tends crams in a lot of small panels to a page during conversation scenes, using headshots to create an intimate atmosphere. His faces, though simple and somewhat cartoonish, are capable of a great deal of expression.
The next form is a black and white style used sparingly for dramatic effect, such as above where we are given our first glimpse of one of the main characters. The sudden loss of colour in these moments really makes them stand out. There’s also a dreamlike quality to them, which works well with the magical nature of the story.
The final style returns us to colour but largely cuts out the traditional comicbook panels. These are dream sequences and flashbacks which, as you can see, have prose written on them rather than speech balloons. The lack of panels separates them from the present day sequences just as the dramatic black and white pages separate themselves from the run of the narrative.

What’s Bad About It?
Let’s start with a religious disclaimer: as many Pagan, Neo-Pagan, Pantheonist and Wiccan friends as I’ve had over the years I can’t swear to the authenticity of the Wiccanism portrayed in this story. For a start, the Wiccan Rede as portrayed by Loeb and Bachalo is a sort of karma system: that deeds, good or bad, come back to the individual threefold. According to an old friend of mine, the Rede as she knows it states simply: “That it harm none, do as thou wilt.”

Beyond that, of course, we are dealing with a work of magical fantasy so liberties are likely to be taken. The Wiccan heroes of the book are never portrayed negatively, in fact their enemies are the mundane evils of everyday life so there aren’t any negative portrayals of witches at all.

As I say, I’m no expert, I can’t swear to anything, I may even be wrong about the Rede, there are differences of interpretation and doctrine in every religion, Wiccanism is no different. In some branch I’m unaware of perhaps the Rede does have a karmic component. All I can do is warn those who will be reading a fantasy rendition of their own religion here that there might be liberties being taken with their beliefs, how severe and/or forgivable those liberties are I’ll have to leave up to them.

Finally, I can give no context due to spoilers but I must warn there’s the possibility of rape trigger through an event related in conversation but not portrayed. Further, as a Vertigo title it is suggested for mature readers, though I can offer no other justifications for this tag other than the trigger warning.

Other Information
The Witching Hour retails at £13.99 and Amazon [here] offers only a small discount on that. It is, however, quite an old book and can be picked up quite cheaply through second hand sources like Amazon Marketplace (at time of writing there are several copies priced between four and six pounds plus postage).

The book’s ISBN is 1-56389-945-0.

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