Without spoiling the details of their plot, Scott Snyder, Scott Tuft and Attila Futaki told us exactly what to expect from Severed way back in the afterword to the first issue. It is there that they publicly laid out their plan for the series to "slowly build up an unsettling creepy feeling before showing [its] teeth," warning that their frightful tale of a boy traversing the treacherous early 20th century American countryside would remind us of "how many real Big Bad Wolves exist." Four issues later, it's pretty evident that the creators couldn't have summed up the premise to this book any better. In every regard, Severed lives up to what the trio promised and, quite possibly, a little more.
In fact, it's almost absurd how much suspense the two Scotts are drumming up via the pace of the aforementioned slow burn. It feels like ages since the vicious traveling salesman with the secret set of sharp teeth first began grooming Jack, our young protagonist, as his next victim, and every moment since has been a nigh unbearable bundle of dramatic tension. This issue alone offers at least two perfect opportunities for the (literal) predator to strike — including a visit to a rundown shack in the middle of nowhere that eerily resembles the murder scene from Issue 1 — yet each passes without consequence to anything but our own gradually fraying nerves. The longer the would-be killer bides his time, the closer we move to the proverbial edge of our seat.
If you just wandered into the middle of Severed #5 without having read the rest of the story, you might even be convinced that Snyder and Tuft's villain is actually somewhat of a good guy. Ignoring the fact that Futaki's heavy shadows and Hitchcockian framing provide every possible indicator that the salesman is seriously bad news, the character spends the duration of this chapter behaving as Jack's guardian and protector. He showers the boy with advice and encouragement, not to mention that he literally saves Jack's life when an unsolicited encounter with a pimp and his underage girl goes sour. Of course, knowing what we do about the salesman's dark motives, each of these outward acts of altruism serves to paint him as progressively more sinister.
By temporarily shifting the source of danger away from the looming threat of the salesman, Snyder and Tuft also manage to advance their second stated goal — highlighting the real world as a truly terrifying place. Though Severed's supernatural elements provide a nice metaphor for the hazards that lurk around every street corner, the literal presentation of those hazards sends an altogether more impactful message. This murky world of dingy dives and snaggletoothed prostitutes as rendered so mercilessly by Futaki is not one we'd want to visit, yet it all too closely resembles the one we're living in now. The issue's chilling coda — another text afterword that speaks of a harrowing childhood experience that occurred to an actual Severed reader — disturbingly proves that.
Tragically, such stories of child abuse and victimization are too familiar these days for those of us keeping an eye on the news. In Severed, Snyder, Tuft and Futaki turn over the rock to expose that twisted underside of our society. Their work echoes the cry of current events in a manner that — without becoming exploitative — hauntingly reveals a dark truth about our world. Evil assuredly exists, and we'd do best not to trifle with it.
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!