“Wayward” is solid reading material for Hallowe’en, actually. Not only does it have the requisite monsters and ghosts – there’s something in the tone, too, the prevailing atmosphere and sense of dread, that keeps it very much in line with this spookiest of holidays. If you have yet to jump on to this ongoing from Image Comics, now is the time.
Written by Jim Zub
Illustrated by Steve Cummings
IMAGE COMICS’ NEW SUPERNATURAL SENSATION! More students with strange abilities, more creatures emerging from the shadows… Rori can see patterns pulling it all together, but can she discover the secret beneath before it’s too late?
I caught up with this series in order to review this issue, and I have to say, I did not get what I was expecting. In amongst all the comparisons to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I was imagining something lighter, a bit more self-consciously campy. But it was clear from the first issue – and very clear as of now – that this comic is a lot more subtle than that. It’s an outsider’s tale with a heavy dose of Japanese folklore, and getting weirder by the minute.
From the very first page, the art is versatile, inviting and engaging. Steve Cummings’ work melds Western and Japanese traditions, but always gets at a crisp overall look. The sharply-rendered architectural and environmental details stand out nearly as much at the characters, constantly reminding you of the newness of Rori’s situation. And while the colours (courtesy of John Rauch, Jim Zub, and Tamra Bonvillain) edge on the extravagant at times, the broad palette keeps the overall look of the comic exciting. Things are guaranteed to get splashy and bright when a supernatural being enters the mix, but the eerie, textural greys of the abandoned neighbourhood scene are just as effective.
The characters themselves are realistically posed and consistently expressive, guiding us through the story with vigour. The subtlety of it all is particularly apparent in the issue’s last pages; Rori’s mother surprises us, and Cummings complements this revelation with a variety of facial expressions, hinting at conflicting emotions and hidden motivations. The supernatural characters, on the other hand, are a bit more flat, over-the-top in a stylized, one-note way, but there’s no denying the appeal of their fanciful character design and costuming.
The shadows on the character’s faces can sometimes feel a touch overdone, pushing for drama when the scene doesn’t always call for it, but that’s a pretty negotiable detail. I’m still admiring the clothes, which are beautifully done throughout. Cummings captures interesting little touches – a rumpled collar, an ill-fitting shoulder – that bolster the overall sense of realism amidst the fantastical.
In terms of story, things seem to be following their natural course, although not in an overly stagey way. This is a solid bridge issue, getting Rori more in touch with her abilities and having her join forces with two other misfits. As more unusual characters enter the mix, Jim Zub keeps a solid handle on the dialogue, establishing a clear voice for each character. The dialogue is portrayed as having been translated from Japanese, but Zub shoots for a naturalistic, colloquial tone where another writer might keep the phrasing awkward in order to hint at what’s lost in translation. It’s a more easygoing approach, and while I wouldn’t necessarily call it superior to the other option, it has the effect of immersing us in this world, and making the characters easy to relate to from an early moment. That said, an instance of “Ha ha ha ha ha” has the opposite effect, recalling stilted voice acting in dubbed anime. It’s a bit of a balancing act, but the tone of the story is well-managed overall, stopping short of self-conscious but working in a bit of homage here and there.
Finally, and as I’ve touched on, the revelation at the end here is quite effective. This hint at where all the weirdness may be coming from suffuses the story with tension, complicating Rori’s place in it all nicely.
You don’t have to be an anime or manga fan to get into this series, but an appreciation of that side of things certainly doesn’t hurt. At its core it’s a fish-out-of-water story with a magical edge, and its appeal is pretty broad. And while “Wayward” is following a familiar trajectory at this early moment, the energetic art and careful pacing keep the pages turning.Continued below
Final Verdict: 8.0 – A well-paced and beautifully drawn journey into the supernatural side of Tokyo