The deeply religious society of late 17th Century Massachusetts lived in fear of witchcraft and sorcery. Those who dared to be different were accused of associating with dark, satanic forces and sentenced to death.
Gunpowder Witch, by Jordan Williams, takes characters with inexplicable powers and places them in the time of the Salem Witch trials. What if people with extraordinary abilities, who deeply religious societies regarded as “witches”, were actually what we would now call “superheroes”?
Rebecca has concealed her powers since a young age, fully aware of the devastation the truth would wreak upon her family in this close knit and conservative community. When a friend is put in danger, she reveals her abilities in a sudden outbreak of violence. Fleeing the small town of Dover Village, she discovers that others share her abilities, and together they plan to take revenge on the authorities who have cast them out.
The story shifts back and forward through time to build the backstory for the small group of extraordinary characters, sometimes in the most unexpected ways. We learn of how their powers first manifested, and the society’s reaction to their differences.
The authorities who seek to destroy Rebecca and her band of outlaw companions might ostensibly be driven by their faith, but it is made clear that the driving factor behind their actions is fear. They lie, torture and murder, all the while using faith as a shield, certain that their own sins are justified. It is hypocrisy, rather than belief, which is the enemy.
Muted tones and slightly imperfect art reflect the sombre mood of a puritan society. An intense feeling of tension and claustrophobia is built, particularly in the early pages of Gunpowder Witch, by focussing on small details: the ropes binding the limbs of a woman to be burnt at the stake; bare feet upon a creaking floorboard, or the faces of neighbours so eager to pass judgement. Dialogue, completely absent from many pages, often comes in short and hurried bursts. Occasionally, panels are cramped full of word balloons as characters desperately share their feelings
After delivering this intense feeling of oppression, the outbreak of violence comes almost as a relief. The first sign of the “witches” fighting back against their oppressors distorts even the perspective of the art, as characters are throw towards the reader. Gunpowder Witch is brutal. Limbs are lost, people are burned to death, and heads are exploded in gory detail. Almost the whole second half of Gunpowder Witch’s 144 pages are an extended, unashamedly vicious battle scene, as characters break free of convention and the writing introduces more elements which might be more readily expected in a modern day superhero comic.
Like the most powerful superhero stories, Gunpowder Witch is about persecution. In a time when society suffers from a growing mistrust of differences, and where simple answers are so readily sought to complex questions, it becomes more important than ever to remember that those who would sow these differences have much to gain from our fear. Gunpowder Witch delivers this message with clarity through its compelling set up and interesting characters.
Gunpowder Witch, from creator Jordan Williams and Stache Publishing, was originally published in four parts. The collected Gunpowder Witch: The Graphic Novel, is currently being funded via Kickstarter, and at time of writing has reached its funding goal. The 144 page, full colour collection is available in digital, paperback and hardback.