THIS REVIEW OF ‘HEX WIVES’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Brendan Hodgdon. In case you haven’t noticed, witches seem to be having a bit of a cultural moment right now. Be it through comic books old (Wytches) and new (Sex Death Revolution), TV series like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Charmed or films like Suspiria, women with the power of the dark arts are a force to be reckoned with in the current pop culture landscape. Thankfully, the creators of these various projects are talented enough that each project has its own unique voice. But in case this smorgasbord of witchy wonders wasn’t enough for you, there is also Hex Wives to consider and enjoy.
This new series from Ben Blacker, Mirka Andolfo, Marissa Louise and Josh Reed (and the second from newly-revamped DC Vertigo), is certainly not the most subtle amongst the current witch boom. Even when compared to Sabrina, which wears its “Smash the Patriarchy” theme on its sleeve, Hex Wives is incredibly blunt in its messaging. But its creative team uses this to their advantage, creating a speedy, in-your-face blast of high-concept thrills that’s pretty fun to read.
Blacker’s script, which regales us with the history of this immortal band of witches before revealing their modern-day plight, moves very quickly, covering a lot of ground in the centuries-long backstory of these characters. In the process, we see the witches as both their true selves and in their current, domesticated lives. The shift in their personalities makes the theme of the story all too clear. As witches, these women are fearsome, powerful, and sexually unrestrained. But in the present, they are just standard housewives, stooping to little moments of rebellion like sneaking smoke breaks while tending to their homes and waiting for their absentee husbands to return. In the former portion, Blacker seems to revel in the brutality of these women in the face of male oppression; in the latter, it’s tragicomic to see the sort of lifeless stereotypes to which the controlling men of the story have reduced them.
While Blacker’s approach makes for a fun read, it isn’t quite as fulfilling as it could be. Considering that the first half of the issue, which takes us through the history of these witches, is narrated by one of the very villainous men that has trapped them in the present, it doesn’t give us the best window into who these women really were before their imprisonment. And along with the quick pacing, it makes the indignity that the witches are suffering through in the second act less tangible. As the story sticks with the women’s perspective going forward, I could easily see this balancing out, but taking this issue on its own it keeps the characters from leaving a strong impression on the reader.
That being said, the quick pace of the script does give Mirka Andolfo the chance to really flex her artistic muscles, and she takes full advantage of the opportunity. From gory beheadings to suburban banalities Andolfo captures it all, including one particularly stirring sequence where a topless, blood-drenched witch on horseback tears into a band of witch hunters. Andolfo’s exaggerated character designs also serve the story well, shouldering the weight of the story’s tonal shifts throughout the issue. She is a great fit for this material, and nails every beat and detail that Blacker throws her way. Between this and her own series Unnatural, Andolfo is giving us plenty of evidence these days that she is a true powerhouse artistic talent.
Marissa Louise’s colors do a great job of amplifying Andolfo’s work; the way she uses shades of purple as both a background color and a shading element gives the issue a subtle bit of Halloween flair that lingers in the periphery. On the lettering side Josh Reed is also effective. One detail I appreciated from him was how, when the witches are confronted by an angry mob at the outset of the issue, the speech bubbles that could have been laid down as indistinct chatter amongst the crowd instead have tails attributing them to specific members of the mob. He allows hate and vitriol to trace back to the individual rather than letting it hover inconsequentially above everyone and no one at the same time.
This team knows what they want to say with this series, and the confidence and verve with which they say it goes a long way towards making this issue a fun and worthy read. And while Hex Wives #1 is not a perfect debut when it comes to giving us a thorough look at its characters, as a stylish, theme-driven roller coaster it makes for vicious Vertigo entertainment.
Written by Ben Blacker.
Art by Mirka Andolfo.
Colors by Marissa Louise.
Letters by Josh Reed.
7.5 out of 10