It’s too rare today that a horror comic book drips with atmosphere more than it drips with blood. Make no mistake, plenty of the red stuff spills by the time you reach the final page of “Severed”, but writers Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft were more concerned with creating a work that will haunt its readers long after it is returned to the bookshelf.
“Severed” opens in 1916 Jamestown, New York, where a somewhat disillusioned 12-year-old Jack Garron has begun plotting a new life for himself. After learning he was adopted, the boy has spent the last year corresponding with his birth father, a musician who travels the country from gig to gig. Now filled with a sense of purpose, and searching for identity, Jack leaves the comforts of his adopted mother’s home and hops on a train to Chicago. Jack’s father is playing at the “world famous” Lafayette Theater and is keen to be reunited with the son he gave up more than a decade earlier. As Jack begins his voyage, we are introduced to a monster who goes by the name of Mr. Porter. He looks like a gangly older man, the kind of unimposing figure who wouldn’t register as the fearsome sort if you passed him on the street. Looks, as they say, can be deceiving.
Jack is befriended by the significantly more streetwise Sam, who comes to Jack’s rescue on the unexpectedly perilous voyage to Chicago. Once the two arrive at their destination, Jack learns that his father has moved on to Mississippi for work. The former Mr. Porter, now going by Alan Fisher, introduces himself to the youngsters and invites them into his parlor for a nerve-racking meal. After Jack and Sam part ways, Jack and Fisher make their way to Mississippi so that Jack may reunite with the father he’s never met. The boy has no idea that he is the old man’s prey.
“Severed” moves at a deliberate speed as the terror builds, giving just enough frights along the way to satiate our hunger for gore. The initial chapters focus more on Jack and his eagerness to meet his father, as well as his burgeoning relationship with Sam. By the time Fisher closes in on his target we are totally invested in their plight. The scenes which find the youths within Fisher’s reach are that much more intense because we have gotten to know these two likable characters.
Alan Fisher, or whatever his name may be, is the stuff of nightmares. A kindly old man who pours on the charm before transforming into a snarling creature with razor-sharp teeth, covered in the tattoos of the dreams of his victims. Snyder and Tuft are ambiguous at best about Fisher’s origins. We know he targets the children he plans to eat, but the writers never delve much deeper than that. They leave Fisher’s origins up to our imagination and the work benefits by remaining vague.
Though Fisher is a frightening presence in “Severed”, he is not the only source of dread. Snyder and Tuft don’t shy away from the fact that, in many ways, the early Twentieth Century could be a dangerous place for children. As Jack and Sam make their way to Chicago, stowing away on a freight train, they meet some unseemly hobos who, to put it mildly, have little value for the welfare of the children.
“Severed” is also a period piece, one that benefits from the exquisite artwork of Attila Futaki. The artist’s work is like a combination of Norman Rockwell and Rags Morales; he channels Rockwell’s ability to tap into Americana and Morales’s knack for expressive characters. While the art is not conventional comic book art, there’s a humanistic quality to his character work that helps bring Snyder and Tuft’s characters to life. The art only suffers, and not significantly, when Greg Guilhaumond takes over as the colorist in the last few chapters of the book. Though they are tonally the darkest, Futaki’s palette is more complex than what Guilhaumond is able to accomplish.
“Severed” ambles slowly towards the absorbing tension of its final gripping chapters. Snyder and Tuft offer splashes of horror along the way, concentrating their energies on giving readers a timeless piece that will become a staple of the genre.
Written by: Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft
Art: Attila Futaki
Colors: Attila Futaki, Greg Guilhaumond
Publisher: Image Comics:
Original Publication Date: August 2011
Pages: 192 pages