Thursday, 15 September 2016

Wayward, Volume 1: String Theory Review (Jim Zub, Steve Cummings)

Rori is a half-Irish, half-Japanese whippersnapper who’s gone to live with her mother in Tokyo. But Rori’s going to find out that Japan is magical - literally! - as she meets new friends… and new enemies! 

Wayward Volume 1 has a lot going for it like great art and likeable characters as well as a vaguely defined but enticing plot - and it’s got more than a few problems too, like Jim Zub’s flawed, awkward script! 

I found Rori to be affable from the start, a vulnerable but optimistic and strong-minded kid excited to start a new life on the other side of the world. Then Zub suddenly introduces magic out of nowhere - which doesn’t faze her in the least because why would it it’s only magic(!) - and things get shaky. 

Monsters appear followed by a magical vigilante cat person called Ayane, and then Rori can leap up sides of buildings, and, before you know it, she’s the head of a team of superhero ghost hunters?! Zub also follows the cliched hero team template of introducing new members before adding them to the roster and moving on to the next which can work sometimes but doesn’t here. 

The whole thing comes off as false, rushed and contrived, as well as poorly explained. When did Rori get her powers and what do they mean? And how is she so blase about all this supernatural stuff going on around her - did this sort of thing happen to her in Ireland too? What are the glowing strings Rori can see? How did these other kids get magic powers? How is all of this conveniently taking place within the same Tokyo district and to what end? We might get answers in later volumes but the overall effect of this first one left me feeling somewhat frustrated. 

There’s a lot of stuff I enjoyed too. The atmosphere of being in Japan is very realistic - I’ve lived there myself and have family over there too so seeing Rori’s entrance into the culture brought back a lot of memories. Artist Steve Cummings gets so many details right, it’s like actually going back there for a spell! 

Speaking of the art, it is gorgeous. There’s a strong anime influence on the character designs and action sequences which might be down to the cultural surroundings or the artist’s style (I’ve not seen Cummings’ work before), but it looks terrific. The backgrounds are well-researched, highly detailed and convincing but also beautiful to look at in large part thanks to the half dozen colourists working on making each page dazzling. 

I liked Rori and the dark curveball Zub throws in during one scene making her more complex and interesting, and Ayane’s a fun character too. The evil dude in the bow-tie and boater hat and his bat samurai entourage look to be intriguing adversaries too.

Wayward, Volume 1: String Theory isn’t the best series debut you’ll read but there’s enough here for me to keep going with the title. If you’re after a comic with powerful art, supernatural subject matter and a Japanese setting, give Wayward a shot but don’t expect to be totally satisfied with the storytelling.

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