Wayward, Vol. 1: String Theory
by Jim Zub
My rating: 5 of 5 starsWAYWARD
is by far the most intelligent urban fantasy comic I’ve laid eyes on. It’s the type of comic whose teenage ingénue and emotional flexibility hit the mark from Page One. It rarely happens. WAYWARD
is a rare book.
Now landing in her second home of Japan, Rori Lane’s journeys anew and discovers her remarkable magic-weaving abilities on the spot. The teenager is a good but uncommon fit as Tokyo’s reluctant hero: she holds great disdain for inaction, she values covering her bases, and her sense of right and wrong, though skewed to her fragmented emotional interests, is nevertheless present. She also packs a mean punch (with or without a grocery bag in hand).
Rori’s introduction to the demons, goblins, and ghouls of Japanese folklore is all parts funny, smart, odd, and ridiculously cool, and it’s what gives WAYWARD
a good chunk of its charm. The best example are the fox yokai
, whom series creators Jim Zub and Steve Cummings cleverly manifest as hulking samurai-beasts with a(n) (humorously) irrational fear of human technology. Kitsune legends vary far and wide, and it’s a pleasure to find a book whose writer/artist team knows precisely the story they wish to tell and how to tell it.
Cummings’ line art is outstanding. If you meet someone who disagrees, punch them in the face.
His sense of “cool Japan” is not bubbly or commercial or even, necessarily, “cool.” It’s just Japan, really. Cummings lives and works in Japan. And his understanding (and experience) of the look, feel, smell, and disposition of the Japanese people and their desires gives WAYWARD
nuance. Cracks in an apartment building; school cafeteria benches; vending machines for iced coffee at the park; decidedly boring peri-urban Tokyo, complete with laundered bedsheets on the terrace. Cummings’ work is succinct, and it feels right.
This book’s genuine sense of place and function is likewise reflected in its characters. Character art is very personable (e.g., Rori pinning her hair back; Ayane wanders, easily distracted), and the discriminating color scheme is jaw-dropping and effective (e.g., Rori has red hair, fashionably mixes patterns/solids, and always wears boots). The first two issues are more deliberate as far as ensuring Rori stands out of a crowd (e.g., muted and dry urban milieu), but even in subsequent stories, the art finds a way to keep pace and snare your attention (e.g., fighting underground, where it’s dark).WAYWARD
is a good book. If it doesn’t blow you away, then that’s okay; it’s not supposed to. It’s supposed to lure you in and give you a pinch of awe as you nod your head, thinking, at first, “This is pretty cool. I get it. I like it.” But then someone’s head gets ripped off, someone devours a ghoul with their bare hands, or someone self-harms because the spinning chaos of the real world is too much of an anesthetic. WAYWARD
is tagged “M” for mature readers (adults), but make no mistake, teenagers will quickly identify with every frustration and trauma Rori encounters in her incipient adulthood.
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