Review: Severed #1

Scott Snyder's new Image comic with Scott Tuft creates a palpable sense of fear within the genre of historical horror. 

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

Severed #1

When going for fear, comics are a tough medium to attempt it in. I don’t mean horror; anybody can write slash and gore comics. I’m talking about fear, the stuff that makes us jump at a weird noise, that feeling in your stomach when you are truly afraid. If an artist is going to create that terror in a comic, it has to start with creating tension and then touch something primal in a person or it won’t work. The new Image series Severed manages to create that uneasy sense of dread by investing it’s story with one of the things that always leads to fear – being alone and powerless.

Think of the great films that have used this tool, the attack on Chrissy that opened Jaws, Michael Myers stalking Laurie Storde in Halloween, the quick shot of Pazuzu in The Exorcist. It wasn’t really the monsters that scared us – who could identify with a shark or a demon or a psycho killer? What we related to was being alone and powerless,and Severed taps into that nicely.

Writers Scott Snyder (American Vampire, Detective Comics) and newcomer Scott Tuft refer to Severed as Historical Horror, and thus far have hit the nail on the head, not just with the setting but also the style of writing, bringing to mind EC Comics and pulp magazines of a by-gone era. Severed opens right away creating that air of tension by establishing the mystery of the main character Jack Garron. Meeting Jack in his fifties, he is given a letter by his grandson that awakens a secret so deep even his family doesn’t know. We’re whisked to Jack’s early years as a twelve year old during the early 1900s. Jack is a smart kid who longs to learn about his real father, a traveling minstrel man who Jack runs away from home to pursue.

The flipside to this coin is a traveling salesman with a dental anomaly and a thirst for children’s blood. This man has no real name or history, he is a shadow, an embodiment of evil that preys upon a child’s greatest dream and uses it to gather victims. Snyder and Tuft smartly keep the man stoic at first, only easing out his crazier nature when he has a child alone. Bringing this child to a dark farmhouse and then sending him into the dark basement gets right under our primal fears and ratchets the tension up a notch. The reveal of the true beast behind this dark stranger isn’t nearly as a big a deal as the idea of the little boy in the dark basement alone and what could be happening to him.

It’s easy to let the killer take the lead with this kind of work but Snyder and Tuft never follow the easy path. They work to make sure Jack’s story is just as exciting, making sure we never lose sight of the fact that he’s the main character. By the end of the book, Jack’s eventual meeting with the dark stranger is set and generates that feeling of wanting to buy issue two and then three and so on. This is whole new door for Snyder, though it shows the same strong ability to write darker stories that he’s displayed in Detective Comics and American Vampire. I’m not sure who did what but the work between both Tuft and Snyder is seamless, there’s never a sudden jolt where the writing takes a dip in quality.

Attila Futaki’s art is what ties up this little package. Doing period anything – horror, war, high seas adventure – works only if the art kicks ass. With Severed, Futaki attacks it as if he was the dark and weird cousin of Norman Rockwell. The pages are atmospheric and tranquil, but there’s a darkness to them that bubbles just under the surface. Futaki’s earth tone color palette helps give Severed a more realistic vibe. He’s painting a lighter era of American history but making sure we know that darkness is there. The story possibilities with Severed are endless, especially with Jack being an old man when we meet him. If Severed #1 is any indication, Snyder, Tuft and Futaki could bring to comic books a series that would make Poe or Lovecraft proud.