It feels like all children are given the same lessons growing up. Don’t talk back, have the chores finished before your parents get home — and of course, don’t venture out past the hedge lest the witch catches you unawares.
Saoirse, the protagonist of Boom! Studios’ “The Last Witch,” clearly hasn’t learned her lessons. Created by Conor McCreery and released Jan. 6, the first installment of “The Last Witch” transports readers to a quaint town on the morning of the “feast,” a day said to draw out the mysterious Cailleach witch. Here is where we met young Saoirse with her distinctive red hair and eye-catching cloak, looking for all the world like a woman on a mission.
Stubborn and curious, she repeatedly sets off in search of adventure, enlisting her friend Padraig and later her younger brother Brahm to explore the forest beyond her hometown. It’s a classic fairytale set-up, from the medieval aesthetics to the delightfully Irish names, and that means two things are in store: magic and danger.
The “danger” part is evident from the beginning. In fact, the comic tends to point out signs of danger before the protagonists have even gotten to it, double-checking to make sure the reader has noticed all the signs and omens put in place. The threat of the witch is built up almost immediately, meaning that at any point, there’s little ambiguity as to where the story is going next. Saoirse must venter into the forest; it is a fairytale, after all.
What it lacks in novelty, however, “The Last Witch” makes up for in plain old fun. Though the cast list is small as of this first installment, there are already several lovable side characters to choose from, including Brahm and his witty grandmother. Brahm in particular heightens both the levity and the suspense of a standard “lost in the woods” narrative: His eager enthusiasm and sniffly nose make for some adorable moments, but that’s all the more reason for readers to bite their nails anytime he gets too close to danger.
The comic’s overall cuteness factor is vamped up by the lively expressions of illustrator V.V. Glass. Glass tends toward the wide-eyed and pouty, skillfully capturing youth in the faces of her protagonists. Even Saoirse, with her knowing smirks and unwavering determination, can’t help but seem too naive for the sort of hair-raising adventure she keeps seeking.
Natalia Nesterenko’s coloring only heightens this sense of childish glee, coating the world in vibrant yellows, greens and oranges that stand out against the harsh white winter. The interiors feel warm and cozy, befitting of a fantasy landscape, while the exteriors — particularly the forest itself, which should be the comic’s ominous centerpiece — tend to lack some visual interest.
Cozy though it may be, Saoirse’s village is somewhat underdeveloped in terms of writing. Rather than populating itself with characters, the story zeros in on Saoirse and her family, meaning there’s little in the way of a B-plot at this point in time. Exposition surrounding the town and its celebratory feast comes off as somewhat clunky, rushing to set up the entire narrative conflict in a span of 40 pages, but by the end, “The Last Witch” accomplishes what it needs to: It gets you hooked on some pretty cute characters, then throws them straight into mortal peril.
Overall, this debut leaves more than a few mysteries for the next installments to resolve. The cover art teases some magical powers from Saoirse herself, so if a witch vs. witch battle is in store for the future, then this series may just go from standard to spell-binding.
Lauren Sheehan-Clark is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].