Continuing its recent efforts to revive classic anthologies, Vertigo’s The Witching Hour is a brand new collection of horror from some of the most talented names in today’s comic book industry. Originally published from 1969 to 1978, this iteration of the anthology features nine original supernatural tales of witchcraft and magic across a wide swathe of genres. From sci-fi to speculative fiction, haunting stories of child abuse to campy horror fun, this anthology covers a lot of ground with inventive storytelling and compelling artwork. These witches come from all walks of life, and have something to offer just about any reader interested in some timely Halloween reading.
Stories such as This Witch’s Work by Annie Mok and Emily Carroll and Little Witch by Ales Kot and Morgan Jeske infuse intriguing themes of gender identity and American politics into the genre. This puts an interesting new twist on the role of the witch in modern society, as it reflects on the witch as a marginalized member of society in relation to other marginalized people. Mok’s tale of childhood abuse and retribution is a particularly evocative read, centered on a transgendered witch. It is carried by Carroll’s eerie illustrations, which swing from a soft and otherworldly aesthetic to one of blood and violence with disquieting ease. Kot’s story of a young witch left behind in war-torn Afghanistan by an American soldier strikes a strange and poignant note, developing into an exploration of magic, mystery, and memory.
Other tales, such as Lauren Beukes and Gerhard Human’s spec-fic story Birdie travel to South Africa. This unique read provides a glimpse into the nature of magic and human behavior through a protagonist who communes with seagulls. The science fiction set-up of Mars to Stay by Brett Lewis and Cliff Chiang further explores the theme of human behavior as a team of colonists on Mars slowly dwindle through a series of accidents and strange occurrences. If you’re looking for something a little more straightforward, Legs by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Ming Doyle is an engaging account of a witch luring a man to his death. It offers a lot of interesting imagery, with solid scripting from DeConnick and engrossing artwork from Doyle, and I found it to be one of my favorite stories in the anthology.
The standout story in this collection, however, was the closing tale of Rise by Mariah Huehner and Tula Lotay. Starting off with a generic set-up of the young American backpacking across Europe to find himself and have sex with the local girls, this story turns the premise on its head with a lesbian protagonist. When she finds herself lost in the woods during a rainstorm, she seeks shelter in a cave, only to find herself trapped with the ghost of a long-dead witch. Seeking revenge on the local town for her violent and premature death, the witch’s ghost possesses the weary traveler and uses her body to exact her vengeance. This seemingly simple story of magic and possession is brilliantly executed with the help Lotay’s gorgeous pencils and color palettes, affecting a lush and ethereal picture of life, afterlife, and the strange spaces in between. It’s the most stunning story in the anthology, and simply to read.
Overall, The Witching Hour is a fun and thoughtful collection of witchy fiction. These stories strike a strong balance of horror and provocative storytelling, offering a few surprises along the way. With its diverse range of authors, artists and interpretations, this anthology is sure to please. I highly recommend this one-shot, and hope to see more of them next Halloween.