As we've reviewed the Image Comics horror miniseries Severed each month, our analysis has consistently centered on the way in which writers Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft have been able to gradually and steadily develop a rising sense of dread and tension. It's a mission statement the writers have worn on their sleeves throughout, one that they have undoubtedly fulfilled in total with the series' conclusion this week. Taken as a string of seven individual issues, Severed has the appearance of a book that started with a potential that it ultimately met and exceeded. As a complete work, it bears the mark of a clockwork plan to frighten and unsettle, not once wavering from its trajectory toward a stirring climax.
Here in the finale, the suspense has fully boiled over. Orphan Jack Garron has made his way to the endpoint of a cross country journey that we've expected to turn out poorly from the start, the certainty of those suspicions failing to make their inevitable confirmation any less jarring. The previous issue saw the biggest revelation of the scope of Jack's deception at the hands of the predatory traveling salesman who's been stalking him, and while there's no moment in this issue as singularly shocking as that one, Snyder and Tuft do continue to roll out the payoffs for seeds they've planted. Get ready to discover exactly how Jack ended up as the one-armed man seen in issue one's flash forward, and prepare for a shudder once you learn the disturbing story behind the salesman's mysterious tattoos.
Keep in mind, however, that although we know how grim Jack's ordeal will be, our brief glimpse of his future did also clue us in on the fact that he'd at least survive it all. With this predetermined outcome ahead of them, Snyder and Tuft ensure that they foundations they've laid aren't entirely engineered to facilitate doom and gloom. When hope arrives for Jack amid the despair of a killer's dungeon, it comes not as some deus ex machina but rather as a logical outcome of characters and relationships that have already been established. The pair could have easily written themselves into a corner, but instead the resolution to their conflict manages to ring true.
As horror comics go, Attila Futaki and Greg Guilhaumond's visuals are just what the doctor ordered, but their murky visuals serve to do more than simply make things look creepy. This is art that makes you pay attention, rich in detail and never too obvious in directing your focus. Careful readings will be rewarded, whether it's the observation of a cutting tool on the floor or the secret history traced out by those aforementioned tattoos.
Sticking so close to a classic horror formula, however, Severed does contain its instances of cliché. If this were a movie, frustrated outbursts of "Don't go in there, you idiot!" would echo throughout theaters everywhere in response to a decision Jack makes towards the end that stretches the limits of credibility. Similarly, Snyder and Tuft close the book with an "…or is it?" technique that has become so overused in these types of stories that just about any reader could have written it. Still, these are moments of weakness amidst a sea of perfect execution, and it's probably the overall strength of everything else that makes them stand out more.
Part historical lesson and part societal diagnosis, Severed is, at its root, a good, old fashioned spooky story. For those who missed out on the single issues, the trade collection due in April is as much a must-get as Snyder's DC work. As will be his next collaboration with Tuft, if we're ever so lucky to get such a thing. Whether it's more Severed or something new, this is a team I'm hoping to see reunite soon.
Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter, where he can be found at @Chris_Kiser!