Writer Scott Snyder wants to scare you. And if you read "Wytches Vol. 1" ($9.99, Image Comics), he'll probably succeed.
First, it should be noted that the difference between the monsters in this book and "witches" (with the regular spelling) is 100 percent. They are not remotely the same. In fact, the book begins with the dictionary definition of witches, which is then scratched out by something inhuman. Something with claws.
So, yes, there are monsters in this book. Monsters in the trees, monsters who have existed invisibly beside us and below us. They are monsters that are uniquely suited to the North American continent.
"I've always had a fascination with things that are specifically culturally American. … that sense of things that are really indigenous to American culture," Snyder said in an interview when "Wytches" was launched last year. "With 'Wytches,' it's taking something that's sort of a horror trope, or a horror figure, it's kind of a classic monster, but it's positing it the mythology … in a very American landscape and a very primal, I think, a very American set of fears."
But the monsters are not just the ones in the forest. They are also inside us. Our wants, fears, needs, weaknesses and selfishness call to them. They only come because somewhere deep inside we want them to. And to get what we want … we have to give them someone. To eat."
At the beginning of the book, we don't know anything about the Wytches. And neither do the Rooks, a happy, telegenic, all-American family that has moved to Litchfield, N.H., after some unfortunate things happened at their previous home. Mom was in a mysterious auto accident that left her in a wheelchair. Daughter Sailor was being bullied. And Dad hasn't always been the rock of the family.
But despite their efforts at starting a new life, something bad seems to hover over them — or maybe it followed them. Strangers appear and disappear in the woods. A deer bites off its own tongue. There's this strange growth on Sailor's neck.
That's the beginning of Snyder's rabbit hole. And it goes deep into the woods, deep into the earth. And what's at the bottom isn't pretty.
Drawing "The Wytches" is one-name artist Jock, who has worked well with Snyder before. His sketchy rendering gives an appropriate tickle in the back of the head, like there's something missing or hovering just outside one's peripheral vision. It's unnerving.
Another very American book full of horrors is "Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War" ($26, Hill and Wang). In this book, by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and Ari Kelman, the monsters are all too human.
"Battle Lines" doesn't attempt to explain or describe the entire war. Instead, it's a series of vignettes that follow the war's timeline, offering portraits of one person's experience at a critical time, one object's meandering path in a battle or one moment's shocking clarity at the utter futility and bloody mindlessness of it all.
So "Battle Lines" isn't an intellectual exercise, so much as it is an effort to give the reader a feel, an emotional context, of the times and events. And in that it succeeds brilliantly.
At first the art seemed a bit too cartoonish for the seriousness of the subject. But over the course of the book I came to appreciate it more and more, as its impressionistic nature left wide latitude for the reader's imagination to form a broad range of impressions.
Finally, horror and Americana converge in a more lighthearted way in "Popular Skullture: The Skull Motif in Pulps, Paperbacks and Comics" ($19.99, Kitchen Sink Books).
I ordered the book hoping for a little historical context, or perhaps some pop psych on why the skull has fascinated just about every human culture. But no, there are few words in "Popular Skullture" — the book is precisely what the subtitle describes, page after page of pulp, paperback and comic book covers involving skulls.
And it's a hoot.
There are Nazi skulls! Floating skulls! Skulls lurking behind gimlet-eyed detectives! Skulls using cameras! Skulls playing poker!
The images are collected by Monte Beauchamp, an award-winning art director and graphic designer, and the book is quite handsome.