I have been waiting for a while for this. I had read about it and it sounded intriguing. Then my wife pointed out an article in USA Today talking about the scariest comics for October and this was the top of the list. The next day, issue 1 hit the shelves and I purchased a copy. Often, when you have expectations for something, you end up disappointed. That was certainly not the case with this graphic tale. It was all I had hoped for, and more.
First off, this is very graphic and disturbing, both visually and psychologically. While it is only the first installment, I can see that it is starting down some dark paths. The opening sequence is set in 1919, where a woman is trapped within a hollow tree, peering out from a hole. The surrounding woods are dark and mysterious, and bring forth memories of being in the northern woods as a kid. The woman is terrified and calling for help. Her young son finds her and she tells him she has been pledged and he needs to help her. Instead, he smashes her face with a large stone, just before some ancient clawed hands grasp her and pull her deeper into the tree. This all occurs in the first four pages.
I starting considering the symbolism associated with the tree. Obviously, there is a reference to the mythology concerning deities existing within trees and the archetype of the tree as a symbol of rebirth and regeneration. But it also reminded me of something I read in The Way of the Shaman by Michael Harner. A hole in a tree serves as a portal to other realms. Using visualization, the shaman is able to project himself through the hole and into the other realm. Whenever I go hiking in the woods and come across a hollow tree with a hole in it, I cannot help seeing this as an opening into a hidden dimension.
The main story takes place in the current day and focuses on a teenage girl, Sailor Rook, who has recently moved to New Hampshire with her family. The parents are very concerned about her, particularly her dad. It is revealed that she was being brutally bullied where they previously lived and that the girl who was her tormentor was pulled into the hollow tree and killed. As a result, there were rumors that Sailor may have killed the bully. Sailor feels guilty because she had “wished” that her tormentor would be gone.
All this hit close to home for me. As a kid, I was bullied and I know the pain that one feels when they are the target of senseless hate and abuse. As a parent, I can also relate to the anguish and concern that the father feels. Protecting his daughter is the most important thing in his life. I know that I would also do anything to protect my kids.
The issue ends on a real cliffhanger. I am not going to give details, because I hate spoilers. I will say that if you are like me, by the time you get to the end of the issue, you will be hooked.
There is a postscript that was very interesting. The writer, Scott Snyder, tells about how he was inspired to write the book and provides some details regarding the mythology. I found it really interesting and I could totally relate to his experiences exploring the woods with his friend as a kid. When I was growing up, I spent most of my time in the woods. I was particularly drawn to darker areas of the woods, like swamps and such.
Snyder tells how he went back to the woods as an adult and experienced a scare tied to his childhood which was the inspiration for writing the story. He thought he saw a “witch” which turned out to be a tree. His recounting of the experience is worth including here.
Later that night, I found myself haunted by the image of the witch, peeking out from behind the tree. I knew what had really frightened me wasn’t the “witch” in the trees – sure, the sight scared me – but what had really gotten me spooked was the idea that this witch had ALWAYS been there. That all the years in between were nothing to it. Because it knew… it knew one day I’d come back and it would be waiting. And why had it waited? What did it want?
For hours that night, I kept on with these questions. I knew that there was a story there for me. Something more than scary, something personal, something terrifying in that special way that gets at the deeper fears, the fears below.
Personally, I cannot wait for the next issue. I’m tempted to read this one again. If you’ve read this, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. Feel free to post a comment. Cheers, and have an eerily inspired October.