Review by Frank Plowright
An unusually thoughtful and reflective Jeph Loeb writes The Witching Hour, qualities we can forget his best writing has. He feeds voices through several characters, each known to the others via a colour. The leading raconteur is Gray, who looks to be a sharp dressed man of wealth and taste in middle age, but is actually several centuries old. Because of the deliberately muddied structure, it takes some time before we realise all these people are witches, yet prone to granting the unfortunate the chance to improve their lives. It’s their choice and there’s no pressure.
It’s as if Loeb in 2000 had something to prove, perhaps needing to show he was more than we took him for, and the result is a dense, multi-layered story that reveals connections slowly and scatters glib song references among snippets of terror and redemption. There are undertones of Neil Gaiman, the perfect cousin, but unless he’s quoting, Loeb’s his own man as he blends homilies, quotes and the wisdom of centuries.
Not being presented with a straightforward story, Chris Bachalo proceeds to let his imagination fly, and creates what in 2000 was a career highpoint, taking into account a backlist even then not short of dazzling triumphs. Loeb loves a jazz reference, so let’s compare Bachalo’s pages to a Duke Ellington composition, at first hearing possibly wild and untamed, yet on reflection possessing an extraordinary discipline and precision. Bachalo breaks his pages down into different styles according to what’s being told, sometimes montage, sometimes a dozen panels to a page, and sometimes more standard storytelling. Whatever the format, the results stun.
The Witching Hour is a story that bears reading twice in quick succession, as a second reading reveals little clues that passed unnoticed the first time round, these mostly visual. It’ll also reveal connections, not integral, but pleasing easter eggs to pick up on, one being a cameo from one of Bachalo’s past glories. It’s sometimes a little too clever, and there’s more than a hint of pretension in reconciling we’re all responsible for our own choices, even witches, but it’s meaty, beaty, big and bouncy, with the visual treat extended to the covers once the jacket’s removed from the hardcover.