“Wayward” has gone through an educative process for it’s cast, as they learn the history and ideologies that bind them together and created the current moment. With that new knowledge they are faced with another defining moment and tough question, what to do with that information.
Written by Jim Zub
Illustrated by Steve Cummings
Colored by Tamra Bonvillian
Lettered by Marshal Dillon
Our fates are tied together… Celebrate 25 issues of Image’s supernatural sensation as another arc wraps up and the group is tested once more.
Unsurprisingly issue #25 of “Wayward” reads like a culminating episode as it marks the end of the series fifth volume, ‘Tethered Souls.’ However, in the larger arc of this series, it reads like the turning point off the path these young gods have been on since their showdown at the shrine in volume 3. Their arbitrary exercise of power has come back to really bite them and for Rori it has been an education in the history and cycles that have bound them all together. With all this knowledge they are faced with one simple question: why keep putting up with all this pain, destruction, and misery.
For all the supernatural elements of the series, from a design perspective “Wayward” has never been that out there. Artist Steve Cummings has kept page structure in a very form follows function posture. This form follows function approach shifts the emphasis onto Cumming’s own artwork and especially Tamra Bonvillain’s rich color pallet. Kind of like classic Hollywood film editing, it wants to be read as natural and unobtrusive. It isn’t always subtle there have been repeated instances, such as in this issue, of using of the Red Threads of Fate as the panel structures themselves and “unite” a series of pages without going into crazy Bryan Hitch gatefold territory.
In this issue, as Emi and Rori fall through as they call it, “limbo,” this sensibility really shines as Cummings uses tall panels to emphasize and create a sense of verticality for the moment. Verticality in comics is a bit hard to come by considering the physical restraints of the comic book, web comics generally create this by making their strips read vertically. In lieu of these physical constraints, Cummings uses tall panels that nearly or do overlap and feature sharp transitions in perspective to create the sensation of falling and distance traveled. One panel is a long shot of Rori and Emi falling though the void with lots of space to show scale juxtaposed with the next panel an extreme high-angle perspective that gives no sense of space except for the trajectory of the respective bodies.
The decision to have contrasting lettering for the dialog between Emi and Rori also builds out the sense of surreality within the void. Emi is shown with traditional speech bubbles while Rori is more ethereal and omniscient with her speech boxes. Using these moments in the void to lead into the painful pasts of these characters that bind them together represented by red threaded paneling drives the form following function aesthetic home.
The feeling of culmination comes not from just the decisions made at the end of the issue but from how this issues accesses and echos past events to make new statements. The first meeting of Emi and Rori from issues #6 is recreated and echoed in this issue. Unlike their first meeting, where both parties are unable to break through and communicate, now Emi is able to break the barrier and put her hand around Rori’s throat. This has been a confrontation that has been building since Rori in a seemingly arbitrary use of her powers, erased Emi from her family’s memory. That small act is revealed to be one done out of kindness, and play into the series larger motifs about the nature of power and generational conflict.
There is a bluntness to comics that can make finding nuance a bit hard at times. Individual elements taken out of context and quoted can seem foolish and a bit edgy for its own sake.
“The only way ta break through ta magic is sufferin’ deep in yer heart. Power comes from Sacrifice. Anger, fear, pain. Them’s what changes the world.”Continued below
Without Cummings and Bonvillan’s art or the specific emphasis Marshall Dillon places on words when he letters, the above quote reads like some half-baked Sith mantra mixed with an Irish accent. That Sith like root of power above all else, makes sense within the thematics of the series but it’s in the context of the art work that makes you see the tragedy in what it has wrought. It ties everything together in a Kuleshov effect and reveals how this ideology for Rori’s father and the old gods of Japan have infected and ruined everything. The corrupt actions of their forebearers may have aided in their pain but they still fit into their selfish molds, concerned about obtaining and maintaining their own power base. Not working towards achieving a balance, much less a greater good.
Like the hidden ties that bind these characters together and the operating ideologies that drive the history within this narrative, that darkness has always been there, Zub and company just masked in black comedy. There is a moment back in #6 where Ayane beats the dickens out of some low level yokai. It’s hilariously violent in the way Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz taking a bat to Nazi heads is in Inglorious Bastards. In both cases, the excess plays as comedy and covers for the human destruction audiences just witnessed. Things aren’t funny like that anymore. (OK, that’s a bit of a lie as the creative team rightly cuts the tension with some well-timed absurdist humor.)
For the cast, things haven’t been fun for a while. This has been replaced by personal loss and destruction as they tried to come out to the world and where beaten down for it. And Rori only sees more of that coming, with potentially no good outcomes. With all this history revealed, and the toxic environment that it has created, “Wayward” is finally able to ask the question it’s been building towards: is any of this worth it for them? If they are born from and unwittingly helped perpetuate this cycle of destruction without rebirth, what’s the point? For all its darker elements, “Wayward” hasn’t been nihilistic. It can’t be when at the core of this series about growing up and generational shifts. Our parents are not the superheroes they and we think they are, and some of them might even be supervillains. History can easily be tracked by the atrocities we committed against one another in the name of many things. But that’s just one way to look at the spectrum of history. The good news about the present moment is, we are not our parents. You might not be able to escape, erase, or forget history, but past cycles aren’t naturally occurring, indisputable elements. They are created. That means we can choose not to create them as Emi says, “old magic doesn’t get to define the future.” They do.
And so, reunited, for the first time in essentially a year of publication time. These Wayward souls look down a new no less dangers path with clearer eyes than they did over a year ago when Rori declared “we’re the new gods of Japan … and we’re going to wipe you out.”
Final Verdict: 8.0 – Maybe “Wayward” isn’t the most overtly artistic book on shelves. But, it’s form follows functions ethos and clear thematic work make it one of the more consistently readable series and thought-provoking series.