The Last Witch #1 begins its story on Imbolc day, a traditional Irish festival celebrating the beginning of spring. It’s also the day when the Cailleach, an evil witch only heard of in stories, roams the forest in search of children foolish enough to enter her realm. For a determined 12-year-old girl with something to prove, this is the perfect opportunity for an adventure. Unfortunately for Saoirse, she’s going to learn that the Cailleach is more than a children’s tale.
The Last Witch opens with the determined face of Saoirse as she enters the forbidden forest. Already, she is receiving disparaging comments from her only friend in the village, an arrogant boy named Padraig. But before she even makes it to the border that marks the beginning of the Cailleach’s realm, she’s stopped by her father. As punishment, Saoirse must now stay home during the festival to tend to her younger brother, Brahm, who’s sick with a fever. But it’s also her birthday, and nothing is going to stop her from celebrating it the way she wants to. Against her father’s wishes, she ventures out with Brahm in search of the Cailleach’s tower before Padraig can find it.
From the opening pages, Conor McCreery’s tight script gives a good sense of who Saoirse is. She’s a courageous young girl with a weird mark who’s shunned by other villagers. Her only friend is a boy who rubs in the fact that he’s the only one who will play with her. Kids can be especially mean to each other, and the dialogue captures that well with some fun banter. The more personal stuff we get also feels natural, especially with her father. He’s a stern, no-nonsense man who loves his two children. He takes no pleasure in disciplining Saoirse during a day of celebration. However, it must be done to teach her the foolishness of her actions. The entire issue is mostly setup, but the writing and pacing make it a breeze to get through.
While the writing is well-done, I found myself particularly sucked into the environment. V.V. Glass’s pencils, combined with colors by Natalia Nesterenko, create a disarming atmosphere that keeps you on your toes. From the suffocating forest that seemingly swallows our protagonists to the quietness that comes with a fresh coat of snow, the forest itself has just as much characterization as the actual protagonists. The Last Witch channels a bit of the same vibe as Grimm’s Fairy Tales with Saoirse and her brother wandering into the lair of a fantastical monster. But of course, this book is still for young teens, so don’t expect full-on horror. Instead, expect the story to tap into high fantasy once Saoirse inevitably learns magic. Also, Saoirse and Brahm are too likable to get eaten, mutilated, or have any number of horrific things from Grimm’s Fairy Tales happen to them. So, for them it’s probably a good thing that it doesn’t go down that route.
As a YA book, The Last Witch promises to be a great introduction into darker fantasy stories akin to The Lord of the Rings (1954) novels or Coraline (2002). A tight script, along with concise panel layouts, will make The Last Witch easy to follow for newcomers to the comicbook medium. And, though experienced readers may be familiar with the tropes used in The Last Witch, the deceptively whimsical art by both Nesterenko and Glass, along with the likable characters, should still interest adult readers as well.