Japan is an interesting place. It's simultaneously stuck in the past and striving for the future. When you look at it through western eyes though, it's easy to forget that it's not some far away mysterious island nation constantly shrouded in fog and enigma. It's a real place with real people who have real problems. The team behind Wayward acknowledges both the difficulty of telling a story about another culture while still telling a story about regular people (who just so happen to have mystical powers and fight demons). Together Jim Zub, Steve Cummings, John Rauch, Tamara Bonvillain, Marshall Dillon, and Zack Davisson pool their resources and create a super-team of supernatural teenagers.
Issue three of Wayward opens with our half-Irish half-Japanese all magic protagonist Rori Lane feeling uncertain with her new life in Japan. She feels out of place and her mother seems to be too busy to talk things over. So she talks to the one of the only friends she has, the demon-eating Shirai. The two then try to figure out how exactly Rori's powers work. This leads them to an abandoned and decrepit part of town where young boy is being menaced by a giant glowing skeleton (a kyokotsu). Ayane, the cat-girl from the first issue, shows up and they all have a good old fashioned team-up. They find out the kyokotsu besieged boy, Nikaido, also has special powers and they decide to form a team to stop the coming storm of evil. Meanwhile, a mysterious old man in a suit discusses the future with a skulk of transforming demon foxes (kitsune) and Rori's mother is revealed to have a pretty game-changing secret.
Aside from her magical powers that allow her to see strands of red energy that no one else can see, Rori Lane is a pretty typical teenager. She spends most of her time unsure of herself and her place in the world. To add on to this already universal feeling, she finds herself in a foreign country where she feels even more alienated. The fact that her mother is always working doesn't help. Fortunately for Rori, she's not the only outcast around. Her friends are all different and weird. They may have different personalities, but they share a mystical connection and from that form a tight-knit team of supernatural defenders/best friends. Along the same lines of how horrible it is to be a teenager is the underlying theme of Wayward, the reconciliation between the the present and the past. The various demons represent the past. They're old stories that people used to tell to explain the unknown. By having them kick it in the present, Zub is melding folk-lore with the present. The scene where the kitsune are threatened by the presence of the iPhone is a great way to show the disconnect between two periods of time. But as the old man says, there needs to be a marriage of the two ideas. If the myths embrace modernity, they could achieve great (and probably terrible) things. The dichotomy between old and new is also prevalent in the use of adults and teens. From the old man with malicious intent to Rori's mother and her real job, Zub is setting things up to have the generation gap come crashing together in conflict. The teen team are just figuring out who they are, the adults seem to have it all in hand. But experience doesn't mean they know what they're doing and it'll probably be the kids who shine. The biggest issue with the writing is actually related to the way the teens are portrayed. Profanity is weirdly peppered around at seemingly random moments. It's not very consistent and every time it pops up it kind of takes away from the scene at hand. I'm not one to say censoring is the solution (Personally I think you should be able to say whatever the fuck you want (as well as taking responsibility for whatever it is you do say) whenever you want), but this is a case where using grawlix might make the dialogue come off stronger. On another positive note though is the back-matter. Written by Zack Davisson, the essays serve as an appendix to the mythology happening on the page. It's clear that Davisson knows what he's talking about and finds it interesting and exciting. I mean, sure you could just wikipedia these various demons and spirits, but having someone explain them in such a way is a great addition to the overall story.
The art of Wayward is the result of extreme teamwork. While Cummings handles the line work, there are three different colorists that together do a pretty job at making keeping consistent, while Dillon wraps it all together with the lettering. Cummings's line work is great at keeping a tone of realism embedded in a story about cat-women and giant skeleton ghosts. It would be easy for an artist telling a story about Japan to attempt to mimic the manga style in an attempt to feel more “authentic”. But Cummings sticks with a pretty western style. He's not trying to imitate, he's trying to tell as story. None of the characters look like caricatures. They look like people (or fox demons) and that helps the story feel universal. He also draws a mean fight scene. His sense of motion and movement is apparent in the battle between the teens and the kyokotsu. Ayane jumps around and is jostled by the enemy, while Shirai is progressively impaled as time goes on. It's a pretty quick sequence overall, but it also feels like a lot has just happened. It is followed by a page that is three-fifths the same panel three times, but that's a minor gripe at most. The work of the three colorists (Zub, Rauch and Bonvillain) sets the mood for the entire story. Everything has a soft, water-color like feel to it. It works very well with the underlying theme of mythology by channeling a hazy sense of the past. It also gives everything a dream-like veneer that adds to the melodramatic teenage angst side of the book. It's like soft-focus in on paper. As I've mentioned, the transition between the color work by Zub and Rauch to Bonvillain is seamless. It's pretty common for art to look different based on the colorist, but here the line work keeps. Finally, there's the lettering by Davisson. The special effects are great and do their job well, but the most interesting aspect of the lettering are the brackets used in almost all of the dialogue. Commonly used to show translated dialogue, I can't remember another book that uses the brackets to the same extent. It adds to the idea of difference and foreignness that Rori feels in Japan. There could just be a small little footnote that says “translated from Japanese” or the brackets could disappear half-way through. But the little brackets stay throughout the story and force us to acknowledge that these characters are speaking a language other than English. It's a nice subtle touch that ties a bow on the rest of the story.
Something wicked is coming to Tokyo. Monsters from myth are coming out of the woodwork and the only people who stand a chance at stopping them are a group of four weird teens who all share the fact that they have magical powers. What they don't know is that there are already teams of adults both trying to help and hinder their goals. Jim Zub and his crew of artists do a stellar job of creating a Tokyo that feels both real and drenched in mythology. They also create a compelling group of characters who are already struggling to find their places in the world without having to deal with giant skeleton demons terrorizing them. The series claims to be a mix of Buffy and Hellboy and I'd have to agree. But don't let that make you think it's pure copy-cat. Wayward isn't an imitation so much as it's a familiar genre going down a different path. If you like either series, or plain old coming of age stories, you'll enjoy this series.