By Patrick Larose
There are some things I really like about the comic book industry right now. There’s still plenty of bad to go around. The single-issue market is still broken, the comic book movie boom didn’t save the industry, and nor has their business practices ever successfully adapted to the Internet era and while diversity's up, it's never quite as up as it needs to be. All that said, however, it’s got one thing going for it that I dig a lot. Now more than ever do comics have such wide breadth of tonal and genre variation. There’s not just one perfect comic out there for somebody, there’s four or five.
You don’t need to read Spell on Wheels #1 to know if you’ll like this story. From the cover to the creative team, this book oozes its tone and premise. If you come to this website, this comic probably isn’t for you but it might be for someone you know. It might even be something those someones will love if led towards it and I think that’s great.
That said, this comic isn’t really meant for me either. I don’t come to comics to have a good time. I’ve never seen The Craft and I’ve never read Hellcat. However, I am the only person on this website who has seen all 163 episodes of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and 2 of its TV movies thus making me the most qualified to review this comic.
So listen, Spell on Wheels is a comic about three witches who go on a road trip to get back some magic items before the balance of humanity is threatened…but it also isn’t. Despite the premise, magic exists here on the sidelines, barely glimpsed and only really talked about through exposition. I suspect that's because the spell being cast here isn’t about magic or modern-day witches. This is not interested in being an end-of-the-world epic story--instead this comic is about achieving a very specific tone.
This is a comic ultimately about friends and what it means to have them.
This is conveyed hugely in part by the art. Megan Levens’ line work feels both familiar and warm, capturing a certain lightness that brings to mind a sprawl of comparisons from Archie comics to Michael Allred. The style and character design have to do a lot while displaying the simple. The interior of houses, bedrooms, and car rides--the things a thousand artists could do a thousand different things with but while a different two thousand end up drawing the same boring clichés.
Levens’ makes sure a car ride is never just a car ride, ensuring that every panel has an expression that says something about its characters. We can see their churning emotions between scenes without ever dipping into painful melodrama in no small partthrough Marissa Louise’s color work which brings with it a pop vibrancy. Together these aspects wrap around each other almost like a snug blanket, establishing a tone that things may get rough but never too rough.
The dialog tries to step into this same tone but ends up becoming maybe the biggest distraction. It succeeds in being snappy, quick and clever exchanges, defining the three leads and their relationship but often that dialog dominates the pages.
There are three leads and each share equal page space and equal voices, that defines them but it puts them into almost potential combat for thematic dominance. Everyone needs to say something and that clutters the page, veering the relationship from the real into the scripted. This only made harder by the amount of exposition needed to explain the magical things happening.
That supernatural edge isn’t quite palpable in this issue. We have to understand it through people explaining it to each other rather than a thing made physically manifest. This actually makes the magic the most boring thing to the uninitiated and while maybe truthful to certain practices doesn’t end up translating in a visually interesting way.
While I typically love seeing magic in comics, these two elements end up leaving my favorite panel in this issue a simple one with a single word bubble that reads “zzz.”
There’s direction here, there’s clear characters even if momentarily sketched and what these conversations still succeed in doing it’s to let you know the relationship this book will have to its genre.
Earlier in this review, I said something weird. I said that this book was about “friends and what it means to have them.” I opted not to say friendship to avoid an overly positive connotation. What’s interesting about Spell on Wheels is its portrayed potential to talk about friendship being something more than “friends help friends.” Not in favor of portraying something parasitic or dark but instead the emotionally trying things they push onto each other and carry each other through.
This is comic is at least in part about a bad break-up but even more so can it be about the people who get you through them.
Spell on Wheels #1
Writer: Kate Leth
Artist: Megan Levens
Colorist: Marissa Louisse
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics