Past is always painful … no matter which side does the telling.
Writer: Ben Meares
Artwork: Allan Otero
Colors: Ceci de la Cruz
Letters: Maurizio Clausi
What They Say:
Gretel has been taken hostage by the mysterious girl who has been tracking her, but she will soon learn that they have more in common than she thought. Meanwhile, Samuel has come face-to-face with Tituba and their dark history together will be revealed.
Content (please note that portions of review may contain spoilers):
As Samuel was tracking down leads to the whereabouts of Tituba, what he did not suspect was the vile witch herself had manipulated events so they could meet once again. Only now does she recall their sordid past of how they met three hundred and thirty-one years ago in Barbados, both becoming enchanted by the other and falling in love, so much so the beautiful woman gave him a piece of her heart and in doing also granted powers beyond his wildest imaginings. It was then they decide to move back to Samuel’s home in Salem, but even as he warned her of differences in their cultures, she was not prepared for the prejudice of skin color instead of being labeled as unique due to her abilities. At best they could live together via the charade of being owner and slave, but even as others treated Tituba as lower class there were the younger girls who only saw her as special, embracing the difference and becoming closer as their friendship blossomed. As their trust grew only then did she once again share of her body, giving each of these accepting persons the opportunity to relish in powers and allow them to stand up against the men who also suppressed their need to be treated as equals. However even as the coven grew Samuel tried to warn his partner of the temptations but it was too late, the infected women spread throughout the land and even returned to the Old World, delving into the taboos of consuming tender flesh and granting them forbidden untold fantasies.
But as lovers reunited, Gretel found herself becoming acquainted with her well-armed captor who assisted in disposing of the necromancer, and yet this relationship was not starting on the right footing considering her prisoner was strapped to a chair with explosives. As they verbally tossed back insults, it was soon revealed both dynamic women considered themselves to be witch hunters, to which the bespectacled interrogator denied such obvious lies allowing the blonde prisoner to tell of her past up to the present. Of course, this truth was not to believed, but as the overly confident jailor soon found the tables turned due to an untapped power, she had no choice other than to discuss her own tragic past and how she has become embroiled within the witches’ hunger for immortality. This morbid secret laid within the antiquated system of orphanages, the same one their shared foe discussed and how she sated her appetite for young morsels over the decades, but her viewpoint was much more tragic as she lived through the ceaseless horror. Never knowing who would be next invited to a meal, watching as her cellmates slowly vanished never to be seen again, all being fattened up for what may eventually be her last day – this was her life. She survived that horror for fifteen years until finally escaping but in the end, she vowed no one would be forced to live what she witnessed … but how could she have revenge against something which should not exist?
As we near the apocalyptic end of this amazing series, writer Ben Meares proves his brilliant story can be both emotionally satisfying and yet tremendously heart wrenching within the same issue, even while creating an all-inclusive narrative which enthralls the reader as we learn too much to comprehend as to when everything became twisted from an innocent act. To watch Tituba and Samuel’s origin blossom from an act of true love, with so emphasis on wishing to share even her heart makes the once caring woman portrayed as someone you could relate to, only to see her succumb to sorrow and hatred as her charity is destroyed by jealousy – it allows the audience understand how anyone might have crumbled under the same circumstances. While it was a bit confusing to see her literally pull out parts of her heart to share, this is how Meares explained the situation via Twitter:
And while, yes, removing the heart kills the witch, Tituba can easily pull small bits of her own out to share with the other women in Salem (and Samuel), since she’s just pulling small bits off. The witches heal after they consume hearts (and as we saw in Issue 2, they can be animal hearts) to heal themselves. So, she could have easily healed the parts of herself she tore out by eating a few rat hearts or what-have-you. That being said, if she was pulling bits of her own heart out and not healing it, it would certainly make sense that watching the witches burn in Salem would drive her as mad as it did. After all, she was watching parts of herself die. I have my own preference of which of those two options it was, but the bottom line is that it’s inconsequential. She began eating children’s’ hearts after she fled Salem, so her heart is whole by the time we catch up with her in the present.
With such a monumental moment now exposed and also the realization as to her being the indirect cause of the spread of witches worldwide and the aftermath of taboo acts, it is understandable as to how Tituba’s attitude could have been sullied from her honest acts of kindness. And given Meares’ own speculations as to how this woman’s once noble aspirations have been corrupted, it is understandable over the centuries as to wanting to correct her mistake, no matter what the cost. And yet as the time draws near, who can say if the woman Samuel once loved still exists or if her virtuous ideals are viable with enthusiasm now turned to obsession. One can only hope but time can take its toll … and even an immortal body can harbor an amoral soul.
But even as we are exposed to this classic ethical struggle, one cannot but pensively grasp the agonizing repercussions of one woman’s act of kindness, defiled through selfishness and human greed. We always knew witches had to consume the hearts of children to retain their youth and as Gretel’s conversation with Vita expounded on this villainous act it only makes the following graphic description all the more painful by first-hand account. To have a survivor confirm the sickening gluttony is far too much to bear, even if the scenario is brief in its depiction the tragically moving impact gives a face to its victims, forever branding their fate upon our collective memories. And if these resounding scenes were not stirring enough, Meares makes the victim’s name a powerful reminder through its connotation – Calabar. While the code name may sound very appealing in a feminine sense, its meaning is far more persuasive as to her conviction of seeing justice brought to those who can no longer stand for themselves; this writer has a profound technique of naming protagonists within the series, aside from basing both Tituba and Samuel on historical Salem rooted figures, with each witch’s name directly implying their powers in Latin and yet this hunter’s title is amusingly appropriate, its derivation coming from a method used in Nigeria to judge the guilty of witchcraft or other atrocities, with Calabar also being known as the ordeal bean. It has the same implications as those methods used in other trials, most notoriously the Spanish Inquisition, where the guilty were punished and if they survived they were presumed innocent, just as with consuming and surviving this poisonous legume. This delicious irony is not missed with Gretel’s interrogation, for while Calabar may have tried her best to break her fellow witch hunter it was ultimately the truth from both that set them free. This is how you produce a cliffhanger which keeps the reader memorized with your story and allow them to feverishly anticipate what may be needed to top this phenomenal penultimate issue and seal the doom for one or for all.
And yet even within such a moving narrative, one cannot deny the powerfully dramatic illustrations of Allan Otero which are made supremely effective due to Ceci de la Cruz’s muted color scheme, communicating such emotional fervor by propelling to the forefront a concept of simply being the best and she once again proves her talent to the utmost within this stupendous vision. While I may have praised her work before in this title, this issue only emphasizes the monumental task of portraying past struggles via elemental tones, made all the more difficult due to the limited scope which she displays so elegantly and seemingly with such delicate ease. This obvious display of talent is fully appreciated by finally witnessing the tragic past of Tituba and Samuel, allowing echoes of prior mistakes take on a more ominous twist due to the solidifying anchor of black and white gradations so prominently focusing the reader upon this essential event. Although Otero’s fantastic artwork creates a gateway into history, it is de la Cruz’s striking shading and subtleties of light which envelopes the reader so vehemently and allowing the sensation of projecting ourselves via gripping images to make the events feel so engrossing that we are no longer witnesses, but now ignorant participants to the wickedness unfolding around us. Even if the crimson lettering may be too much at times, it is the same restrictive usage of said color which punctuates potent moments when Tituba shares of herself and the shocking effect each morsel has upon its recipients, their bodies pulsating with unearthly power. But as her coven expands that same ethereal glow signals a growing wickedness which cannot be stopped and reminds us of the corruption now present, the hunger of forbidden tastes and its consequences. You cannot but shudder as a flicker of brilliant flames ignites the ignorance of men, jealous as to what they cannot understand nor control, all as Tituba and Samuel mock accepted practices and indulge in vulgar treats with a mocking smile upon their poisoned lips. However, as we revisit an imprisoned Gretel the flashes of a modern spectrum only remind us the mistakes of the past reflect upon the events of the present, making cyclic recollections of Calabar’s memories all the more torturous … and thus cementing a new powerful relationship for the epic finale.
Gretel constantly envelopes the reader within a horrendous passage of terror which has a meaningful lesson, and yet it is this temptation of watching the forbidden which makes the series so satisfying and enjoyable. To witness carnal pleasures made material may seem bordering on the degenerate behavior and yet it is the fantastic artwork and captivating restriction of color which communicates those ideas so seamlessly and with unparalleled elegance, you cannot deny yourself the temporary treat of primal delight. But as the end quickly approaches one cannot but wonder if this title can indeed fulfill its obligatory demands for a fulfilling closure – to see justice granted to the worthy or vile destruction reaped upon those undeserving of life itself.
Age Rating: T (for Teens)
Released By: Zenescope
Release Date: June 19, 2019