Severed – The 2015 Weekly Writer Challenge: Scott Snyder (Part 2)
52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft, two longtime friends came together to bring Severed to life. With works like American Vampire, The Wake, or the recently released Wytches, under his belt, Scott Snyder has shown time and time again that he is a writer with serious chops for the horror genre. With the two Scotts teaming together to write this story after years of friendship, they sought to bring to fruition dozens of ideas they’d circled around for their entire lives.
In 1916, Jack Garron lives with his mother, striving to be a talented violin player. One day Jack discovers that his mother has kept an important secret from him which changes his life forever. Jack finds a photograph and a letter that reveals he is actually adopted and his father, J.P. Brakeman, is a talented fiddle player who travels the world. Having discovered the letter, Jack reaches out to his father in secrecy, making contact and learning that he is soon going to be playing a show in Chicago. Looking to surprise his father, Jack train hops his way to Chicago befriending a young drifter named Sam along the way. While the two friends enjoy their open road adventure, a disgusting monster hunts down and devours children across the country, killing them in gruesome fashion.
Scott Snyder is an excellent horror writer. Looking all across his bodies of work, you see that any chance Snyder gets to flex his horror muscles he takes. Co-writing this story with Scott Tuft, Snyder does such brilliantly with Severed, creating a creepy and chilling horror story about traveling and fear of the unknown. It’s the key element to any good horror story, the great unknown element that terrorizes the protagonist and it’s something that Severed just nails down perfectly. What fascinates me even more about this horror series though is how Snyder full on reveals the monster to this story early on, not shying away from acknowledging that this “thing” will be the force of nature that threatens the hero of the story. Even though it’s out there for the reader rather early on, Snyder still leaves so many unknown and unexpected pieces out on the table that you still get the sense of fear even though he almost immediately puts a face to the thing that creates the very fear I speak of. Snyder just gets this innate terror seeded into the narrative that sits and waits for it’s time to strike, lashing out at seemingly all the perfect moments.
Unlike your big blockbuster horror movie that has an ensemble cast of six or seven twenty-somethings, Snyder and Tuft kept the cast for Severed tight and concise. By my count there’s four, maybe five, major characters throughout the entire story. Jack Garron is a twelve year old boy with a sense of adventure tied to meeting his real father. He’s your curious and foolish young boy who is still infinitely braver than what you’d expect. Snyder and Tuft really get across the apprehensive nature of a young boy out on his own on the unknown road for the first time but still sprinkle in dashes of courage. He’s naive and foolish but still filled with so much hope, which is what constantly pushes him towards trying to find his father. Jack as a character develops so quickly before your eyes that when you get to the final issue and see the actions he takes towards creating a resolution for the story you may be taken aback at first, simply because it all seems like such a quick turnaround for the character to act the way he does. But, when you really take a second to look at Jack’s character throughout the story, you realize that maybe the growth he experiences after only seven issues does make more sense than what you’d first expected.
The other main characters are Jack’s traveling companion, Sam, the unnamed antagonist, and Jack’s adopted mother, Katharine. Even though Jack is the star of this story, Sam might actually steal the spotlight a bit, as every scene they’re in just seems to shine. Sam is a drifter who becomes Jack’s partner in crime, helping him to survive and make it to find his father. What makes Sam such an invaluable character is his knowledge, as he has the street smarts to make sure he and Jack only get into minimal amounts of trouble. It’s the benefit to having Sam around that really helps Jack during the early parts of the story and serves to make Sam an interesting character to have around. Jack’s mother, Katherine, is and isn’t a main character at the same time. She’s someone who honestly doesn’t play much of a role in the story until a pivotal moment that dictates how the story will end and her character isn’t given much of a chance nor time to develop. The unnamed antagonist is everything you need from a classic horror story. As I said above, it’s the fear of the unknown that makes the horror genre so compelling and that’s what I believe Snyder strives for with this character, to epitomize what the horror genre is really all about. The man can come across as terrifying or menacing but the true reason he only comes across that way is because of how little you actually know about him or what his motivations are. In my mind, the reason this unnamed man works so well as a villain is because Snyder and Tuft leave so much up to the reader for them to inform themselves with. We don’t get an origin story about this man or even an in depth explanation as to why he does what he does. Leaving so much up to interpretation can alienate readers who are used to having things explained and expecting the conclusion to be neatly tied together but a writer like Snyder loves lacing subtleties throughout his stories so the reader can piece it together themselves.
Snyder and Tuft choose a great setting for this story, setting it back in 1916, an era without the technological “know how” of our generations. You’re thrust into America during the first World War, with that being a rather minor part of the story for the sake of historical reference. It’s not something that dramatically changes the way the story functions it’s just neat to have Snyder and Tuft set it during this time period and get across the different types of transportation and technology accessible to people. The way characters interact with each other and speak is delivered so convincingly that it’d be impossible for you to argue that this isn’t the way the world was back in 1916. The writing duo also do something excellent with one of the primary characters in regards to the social structure during this time, only further solidifying how great of an idea it was to cast the story during this time frame.
Collects: Severed #1-7
Best Character: Sam
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “They say “Home is where the heart is…”, but this place…that I’d spent so many nights dreaming of…the place where I thought I belonged…is all wrong.” – Jack Garron
Best Scene: Jack and Sam play a tense game with a bear trap – Issue 3: It’s A Jungle Out There
Best Issue: Issue 3: It’s A Jungle Out There. This was a tough one to choose. I think I ultimately leaned towards this issue because of the tension riddled “Bear Trap” scene late in the issue. There’s plenty of great character moments with Sam’s street smart ways clashing interestingly with Jack’s naivety. This is the issue that flips the story around and sets it on a dark course from which Jack and Sam can never remove themselves from. A solid issue that could’ve been a filler turns out to be a compelling and vital piece to this series.
Why You Should Read It: This is just another example of Scott Snyder’s surprising depth as a writer AND shows that he might be the most underrated horror writer for our generation. When someone says the name “Scott Snyder” we immediately think of Batman because that’s what he’s most well known for but reading his other works like Severed show that Snyder is an amazing horror writer. This is a great miniseries that is a truly chilling horror tale, making you fear the unknown more than some cruel monster. Snyder teams with Scott Tuft to show us how horror in comics should be done. All that, plus there’s a scene in the last issue that I’m absolutely surprised was allowed to be shown in a comic. Be forewarned it’s rather grim but only makes the story that much more interesting.