From the moment I first heard about Wayward via this variant cover over at Bleeding Cool, I was intrigued. Sure, the direct comparison to two of Images most popular books (as well of two of my current favorites) was more than a little pandering, but the line “From the team hoping to be half as successful as Saga and Sex Criminals” showed that writer Jim Zub (of Skullkickers fame) and artist Steve Cummings had some humility and a good sense of humor. Mentions of Buffy influences in Images’ PR and from Jim Zub himself certainly didn’t hurt either. So, try as I might to fight the calculated corporate hype machine, I caved, ordered a copy of #1 at my LCS, and waited. Well the day has finally come where I can confidently say two things: 1) the most dangerous kind of hype is the kind that you impose on yourself and 2) Wayward #1 is a good, not great, comic.
The story of our red-haired teenage heroine Rori Lane is one we’ve all heard before. Unable to cope with living with her father in Ireland, Rori travels to Tokyo to live with her mother, and must adapt to an entirely new culture, fit in at school, and make some friends along the way. While the premise is played-out, I thoroughly enjoyed the first, non-supernatural half of this issue. Character development, setting, and tone are all presented quickly and efficiently through a great use of internal monologue. I found myself getting wrapped up in Rori’s story, being curious about her relationship with her father and her strange power to “connect the dots” as she calls it, and hoping that she finds her way in this strange environment. This is some surprisingly captivating stuff.
At least, it was captivating until a catgirl with blue hair leaps from the shadows to defend Rori from turtle monsters. While it wasn’t exactly a surprise that this book has one foot set firmly in the supernatural (it was on all the press materials), I guess I wasn’t expecting it to be so…bland. Ayane, the aforementioned catgirl, has feline fangs, craves strawberry milk, and is annoyingly quirky. She’s a tail and a pair of ears away from being like every anime catgirl ever. And sure, there may be more to her character than what we see here. But what we see here is so standard that it’s all just dull.
Even Rori, a very interesting character in the first half, becomes almost stock in the second half, turning into a perpetual question machine once shit hits the fan and brings the momentum to a schreeching halt. “What was that?!” “Who were those guys?” “Are you serious?” “Should we call the cops?” It’s understandable that a person who had just down battle with seven-foot turtle demons would have a lot of questions, but it’s here that Wayward starts to feel a little stale, like it’s taking pages directly out the Supernatural Teenage Action Series handbook. “Here a strange event and a chance meeting that will spark a series of adventures. Our protagonist will ask many questions but will recieve very few answers because we need to keep up the mystery for a few issues longer.” Sometime this arc, Rori might discover that she’s special, perhaps the chosen one, or the last of a rare bloodline, or something we’ve all seen a thousand times before. And while I really hope that that’s not the case, Zub seems to be leading us in that direction.
The only thing of consistent quality is Steve Cummings’, and damn, what quality. The level of detail in every panel is enormous. Usually artists will skimp on the details of background characters because they think their foreground characters look good enough that the reader either won’t notice or won’t care. But not Mr. Cummings. Every, and I mean every, character has a unique design, a distinguishable face, and even hints of personality. A great example of this is a train ride early in the comic. One traveler looks bored while another looks content munching on a snack. An older man shows his wife an interesting article in the newspaper. And all these people only appear for one small panel, two at most. And the whole comic is like this. If you’re not sold on the story Jim Zub is telling, then at least stick around for that Cummings’ art.
Wayward is by no means a bad comic; far from it. The art is gorgeous, Rori’s character is interesting enough that I’m willing to follow her for at least two or three more issues, and the colors by John Rauch and Zub are vibrant while not overselling it. I just hope that Zub can take this story in, if not a new direction, then at least an interesting one that doesn’t follow the same path that hundreds of anime, Saturday morning cartoons, and comics have paved before it.