The Daughters of Salem Part One
By Thomas Gilbert
Europe Comics

Subtitled “How We Sent Our Children To Their Deaths,” Gilbert says of the book in his intro that the story is his exploration of the problem of femicide in western culture and the dominance of patriarchy in these cultures. To do so, he takes elements of the historical reality of Salem while telling the story through the eyes of Abigail Hobbs, a 14-year-old Salem resident who recounts the events starting the day she became a woman.

Abigail’s experience is essentially one of something resembling innocence being forced to accept a role in a paranoid world that sees women only as sexual prey responsible for their own safety against the overtures of men. Shame is revealed as a burden passed between women through the generations and utilized by society as a prison to keep them in their place.

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This is the lens through which Gilbert presents Tituba and Abigail’s contemporaries in Salem, as well as Abigail’s secret interaction with a Native American lurker in the forest that she calls the Man in Black because of the dark face and body paint he wears, but whose presence the other villagers use as proof of the Devil’s interaction. The collective racism brought on by Tituba and the Man in Black, along with the blinding rage of their religious beliefs and the misogyny inherent in their culture, all mix to work against the peace and bring danger and death to the community.

This is an excellent and intense beginning that mixes history with extremely relevant fiction, taking care to comment on current events without skimping on the allure of the drama because of preachiness.

 

The Freak
by Matt Lesniewski
Adhouse Books

This fable of otherness begins with simplicity but veers into a complexity that makes no ultimate pronouncement or judgments, rather a sad nod of sympathy towards those lives the fable touches on.

The Freak is a gangly guy who is constantly bullied for his appearance. Because of this, he settles on the solitary profession of ditch digging, believing that will give him a path in life. But people suck, as many may have noticed, and the Freak pledging himself to a quiet life of solitude does not mean townspeople don’t seek him out to direct their abuse. So like so many, the Freak makes his way to the city, where he finds an escalation of hostility and abuse, but also the possibility of community.

So many of us go to get lost in the city, and a good portion of us are disappointed by what we find. And even when we encounter community, the trauma of our past might be too much to allow assimilation. That’s one of the basics of victims, that they are the ones expected to take the high road on the path to healing. Lesniewski questions that idea, though not in such a way to criticize, more to point out that psychological healing is not a one-size-fits-all process, and that being in a marginalized group is not enough to make you feel like you’re a part of something, and that what you need to get through life is being provided.

It’s an insightful conclusion, and the complexity of the ideas explored are matched by the complexity of Lesniewski’s art. His crisp lines go into overdrive as they render the cluttered world that the Freak wanders through. It’s a delight for the eyes to decipher every intricate detail, mirroring perfectly the messy internal life that the Freak exists within, and an eye-grabbing tour de force in an impressive debut.

 

Misty Volume 3
by Eduardo Feito, Jordi Badia Romero, and others
2000AD

The first issue of Misty hit British newsstands on Feb. 4, 1978 — we’re just a couple weeks short of the 41st anniversary — and the comic became renowned for its gruesome and macabre stories that were aimed at girls, offering stories that centered around girl characters that weren’t necessarily withering flowers or boy-obsessed.

The bulk of this third volume of reprints from the legendary British horror comic for girls is taken up by “Wolf Girl,” which is not the story of a werewolf, but of a girl who is raised by wolves but adopted into civilization and cannot cope. Poor Lona lost her parents in a car accident and wasn’t found until several years later by soldiers. Taken in by a British couple, she seems to fit in fine with the human world until about middle school age, when the training of her wilder days starts to take hold. Lona howls at the moon, for instance, and exhibits other unruly behavior that gets her into pickles with her schoolmates and friends.

It’s the torment that Lona feels that dominates the story, her struggle to keep it together despite memories of her wolf upbringing flooding back through her brain, and then an attempt to do what her instinct tells her to do.

It’s an old fashioned story, for sure, and largely devoid of humor, but that’s all part of what makes it so alluring. It’s a soap opera, essentially, and it’s part of a master plan by the editors of Misty to lure in what was apparently a huge part of British comics readership in the 1970s — girls — and give them something a little darker than what others offered. So while melodrama might rule the tone of the story, the actual meat of the lead character’s struggle is, for the time, very out in left field.

The volume rounds out with several other wolf-related stories, often playing on the old cliches of werewolves for some nice twists, and always upping the melodrama and whirling it playfully around the macabre.

One of the things I like best about Misty is the way it busts stereotypes. In America at the time, you’d be hard-pressed to find a comic that was aimed at girls but wasn’t either romance or Archie or some variation of Archie by a rival company. But Misty acknowledges that girls aren’t sugar and spice and everything nice — they ’re human beings with gray areas and a fascination with what lurks in the forbidden parts of life. That didn’t happen often enough 40 years ago, and Misty is an intoxicatingly fun rejoinder on behalf of all the cool girls of the time.