A review copy was provided by Jim Zub.
Having never read Wayward 1-3, I jumped in with some online reviews in hand and a tagline courtesy of Silverwolf, “strong female protagonist, half Japanese half Irish, does mystical adventures in Japan with Kappas and Cats and stuff.” As far as accuracy goes, that’s mostly the gist of it. Wayward, a comic written by Jim Zub and drawn by Steve Cummings with a team of colorists, continues off of its strong debut into issue 4.
Rori Lane moves to Japan and acquires both foreigner newcomer status as well as the burden of growing into her supernatural senses all at once. Red ropes, a little stronger than threads of fate, appear before her and inexplicably lead her to important encounters.
By Issue #4, she’s met three others with powers and they’re bumping their way to figuring out why Eastern mythological monsters are suddenly populating the city and attacking – except they’re not in the dark, what with Rori’s powers being a convenient physical guide. Though mostly a transitional piece, Wayward certainly makes an impression.
A lot has already been said about the art and mix of Western/Japanese style that expresses itself both through the visuals and the character identities. I won’t add much other than that I agree with those review aspects of Wayward #1-3, and that it certainly holds up for #4.
The outfit choices are also a pretty interesting mix: Ayane, the rather unhinged cattish wild girl on the team, is given a modest blouse and restricting mid-length pencil skirt. True, the colors and flounce along with liberal addition of arm warmers and knee socks help her seem anything but the average good student, but she looks understated next to Rori’s color-popping dress and spiked accessories.
As far as story goes, this issue showcases more of Ayane’s zany lines and develop where her new friendship with Rori stands. Ayane’s unnatural way of speaking in conjunction with her expressive body positions help drive across her loud personality. Lines like “We will purchase manufactured goods!” and “Don’t worry, I’ll protect your daughter from lightning and other weather-related dangers!”, really make her stand out as a mix between a Teen Titans TV Starfire-like girl trying to make sense of the world and the perky reckless sidekick trope.
I like how they wrote her to spur on Rori, who this late into the game is still going through the “I’m an abnormal student trying to live a normal high school life” montage intros. Ayane is decisive and just wants to kick butt; pretty simple, which is a lot better than the foot shuffling the others have going on.
Even without reading the previous issues but having a fair idea based on summaries, I do have a bit to nitpick on. I agree that showcasing more of Ayane is fun, but the two other characters have such reduced roles that I didn’t see their names mentioned once. Their lines were also limited and not hugely revealing of character, serving only to move the plot forward, which the comic seemed anxious to do after devoting the first half to Ayane and Rori’s interchanges.
After Shirai (the tall boy) demands to know where they should go, Rori picks up a trail and off they go. Yes, he then mentions how “convenient” that is, but ignoring that we get a few pages of them moving around with more of Rori’s worried internal monologue covering up useful discussion.
Once the action picks up, the panels become busy while the dialogue drops off. Ayane makes this clear with, “You turtle-boys really need to expand your vocabulary past cheesy action movies…Everything you say is a villain line!” But really, the other characters say nothing except corny “come at me” hero phrases as well – at least the turtle-guy makes a point that they come and “enter our home…try to kill us?”
The four of them don’t have all of their powers established and aren’t awfully prepared for intruding upon the enemy home base. I mean, if you want to give the enemy that much sentience, you may as well have more interrogation to see what the motivations are while they’re duking it out. Pointing out the cheese doesn’t excuse writing it in in the first place.
In the end, we never really find out who the man behind the “ambush” is, which calls into question – can Rori’s red paths be manipulated by accumulating spiritual energy in certain hotspots to deliberately guide her there? Also, I know I’m missing some earlier “cliffhanger” of a sort in the last issue about Rori’s mom, but these clues look like they were only revealed to the readers while Rori has no reason to suspect her mom.
However, she instantly picks up the sense of another trail and realizes these events have to do with her mom – how? Rori can’t see the destination or object of her trail, so how did she connect the dots?
While I may seem overly critical about the writing decisions in this issue, I did overall enjoy the concept and potential characterizations behind Wayward. The general consensus is that Ayane is a driving force that is entertaining to watch, but with the more recent introduction of Shirai and Nikaido, I’d like to see how the group starts to consolidate into an actual team. The inclusion of the murky abandoned subways, along with additional facts about the actual Tokyo underground, is always a treat where we get a comic-treatment of the darker side of the East.
I would still recommend Wayward to comic fans that like the dose of spooky Japanese, with the personal belief that the transitional elements in #4 simply undercut its potential and is not the greatest starting point for a new reader. It actually gives me a little of the Gotham Academy vibe of suspense and student shenanigans, so I’m looking forward to greater development as it seems things have started rolling forward. Here’s to high expectations for #5!
-Enjoyable context and world-building.
-Weakness in how the plot moves forward.
-Lack of characterization allotted for every character.