Friday, September 8, 2017

Wayward I: String Theory By Jim Zub, Art by Steve Cummings

Wayward I: String Theory
By Jim Zub, Art by Steve Cummings

Wayward is an urban fantasy comic created by Jim Zub and Steve Cummings. Jim Zub is a Canadian comic writer, artist and art instructor who currently lives in Toronto. He has worked for Marvel and DC as well as creating this series for Image comics. In addition he has done work for companies such as Hasbro, Capcom, the Cartoon network, and Bandai Namco. He is also a program coordinator for Seneca college's animation program. Steve Cummings is an American born veteran artist who got his start for DC comics and since then has done work on comics for well... Everyone from Marvel and DC, to IDW, Kenzer & Company and, Devil's Due Publishing among others. He also created a manga, Pantheon High for Tokyopop. They both came together for Wayward, often billed as a modern day Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which I gotta admit makes me feel old, as I didn't think Buffy stopped running that long ago), Wayward started it's run in 2014 with the first graphic novel being published in March of 2015. It is still going.

Wayward takes place in modern Tokyo Japan. Perhaps I should say instead a modern Tokyo Japan if it's shadows and dark places were seething with mythical monsters who all seem to be on the edge of exploding into daylight and laying waste to the modern world. Modern humanity is, for some reason, completely ignorant of this host of predators lurking on it's very doorstep and blissfully goes about its everyday business unaware of could happen at any moment. Well, as unaware as anyone can be in this age where everyone is painfully aware that modern life could be destroyed in a matter of hours, but you get the gist. Into this comes our main character, a 15 year old girl name Rori Lane, half Irish, half Japanese, all teenager. Her parents marriage broke down some years ago and she stayed in Ireland with her father, while her mother went back to Japan. We're told this is because Rori's Mother, Sanae didn't want to disrupt her schooling by dragging her across the world to a country with a completely different school system and language. Which to be fair is completely reasonable and also totally not the reason that Sanae wants to keep her daughter as far away from Japan as humanly possible. Unfortunately Rori's relationship with her father breaks down completely and she comes flying across the planet.

Once in Japan Rori discovers that she has the magic ability to see patterns, usually in the form of red string (which is a reference to Japanese folklore, traditional belief being those who are meant to be married or become lovers are tied together by red string woven by the gods). This sight leads her to meet other people with their own magical powers, such as Ayane, a cat-girl who really likes fighting monsters and strawberry milk. She also has a problem focusing, often wandering away from the group in mid conservation, which I can only imagine is infuriating. There's also Shirai Tomohiro, a young man who's been cursed. He can no longer eat or drink and now must hunt down and devour spirits to stay alive. As you can imagine this makes him incredibly cranky. To be fair if I couldn't get the simple pleasures of a good stiff drink or a nice sandwich I would be a bit grumpy as well. While there's not enough time to really focus on any of the characters the book does a good job of showing us how frightened Shirai is of his condition and how that fear expresses itself in aggression and anger. The last member of our troupe is Nikaido, a young, withdrawn, homeless boy who seems to have the power to calm everyone down, or blow everything around him up. Together they resolve to get to the bottom of the weird stuff plaguing their lives and if that means killing a bunch of monsters... Well so much the worse for the monsters.

Rori finds herself the leader despite thinking herself completely unsuited for the task, due the fact that everyone else is even worse at it. Ayane, while meaning well is kinda all over the place and is not very good at explaining things. Shirai has to much fear and anger boiling over to lead a group and has no idea how, and Nikaido isn't really in this book long enough to be a leader. Not that Rori doesn't have problems of her own. She's a redhead who up til now has had Japanese as a second language trying to be a Japanese high school student, and dealing with a Mother who is all too absent. She also has deeper and darker problems that her newly emerging powers and distant relationship with her Mother aren't helping and the book hints broadly that that distance is for her own good on top of everything else.

I say hint because this book raises a lot of questions and introduces a lot of characters but beyond Rori and Shirai, we don't actually get to know these characters in any real depth. In fact when the big bad shows up towards the end of the book to completely throw Rori's life into freefall... I have no idea who he is, what he wants or why he's the bad guy other than the violence he visits on Rori and her family (which honestly is enough for me to mark him in the bad guy spot). The plot moves quickly and cleanly but does rely more than a little on Rori's utterly unexplained and unlearned powers. This is marginally balanced out by Rori being almost as frustrated by this as I am and when I hit the end of the book, I still have no clue what is happening and why, but then neither does Rori. I gotta be honest and say this is a problem for me. Because I'm still not sure what this series is about, what the central conflict is, or even what the stakes are. I do know the bad guys want Rori dead, which is bad and the story has had us spend enough time with her that I don't want to see her dead. On the flip side half of the characters in this book have little to no time spent on their characterization. I know Ayane is linked somehow to stray cats but not how or why. I have no idea what is going on with Nikaido and no idea what anyone except Rori wants. So I don't feel like I've read volume I of a series. I feel I've read a bloody prologue. The art on the other hand is nice, it has clean lines and uses contrasting colors very well. The girls look like teenage girls instead of super models in their late 20s and the male and female characters are distinct from each other even discounting their different hair colors and styles. Which is a plus as certain artists (you know who you are! YOU KNOW!) have a tendency to reuse faces.

That said, the book doesn't really tell us a complete story as much as tell us that there's going to be a story. This is like... If a New Hope ended when Luke came back to the farm and saw what the stormtroopers had done to his family. I think this is one of those divisions between comic book industry and myself. The comic book industry wants me to buy each issue monthly and I want them to tell complete stories in their graphic novels. Gripes aside, the 2 characters we got to meet in the book are interesting and the settings not terribly just not anything new. Wayward Vol: 1 by Jim Zub gets a C, sadly breaking our streak of high grades but such is life.

Next week, the Memoirs of an East German spy! The Man without a face! Keep reading!

This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen.

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