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WAYWARD #1-5 Review: A Stunning Hybrid of Comics and Manga

If the 2010’s could be called anything so far in comics, it’s safe to call it the “Second Image Revolution.” What I mean by that is that Image Comics — which helped drive the speculator bubble and awful crash of the comic book market in the 1990’s — finally overcame its stigma as a publisher of badly drawn, poorly written superhero and action stories to become the premier destination of exciting, innovative, original stories told by writers and artists who had made their name on corporate properties but were looking to make something all their own.

The now over-a-decade-old The Walking Dead is obviously the progenitor of all the recent series that have cropped up, like Saga, Morning Glories, Sex Criminals, Chew and Revival. If anything, this decade has been the decade of Image becoming the new standard of comics for a lot of people. But there’s one title that, with all these good books coming out, has kind of been lost in the shuffle.

I speak of Wayward and it’s a damn shame people aren’t talking about this book–which wrapped up its first story arc on December 17th–more. Billed by Image as “Buffy meets Japanese folklore” when it came out in August, Wayward is certainly that. But it’s also more: a compelling fantasy world revolving around cultural transplant and isolation that has room for both serious action and serious heart.

The Plot

Rori Lane, a half-Irish, half-Japanese high schooler fed up with her dad, moves to Tokyo for the first time to be with her mom. Besides the usual adjustment to a different place (doubly compounded because it involves different cultures), Rori discovers that when she needs to figure out where to go, mysterious red lines appear and point her in the right direction.

Things get even stranger when, walking down an alley one night, she’s attacked by three boys who turn out to be kappas–legendary Japanese river demons–in disguise. It gets even weirder when Ayane, a mysterious girl who looks and behaves like a cat, intervenes, beats them up and then tells Rori only stranger things are coming. As more and more yokai (monsters) come out of the shadows, it’s up to Rori and her new friends to see how it all ties together.

The Story

Jim Zub is a writer who’s done all kinds of stuff, ranging from original stuff like Skullkickers to work on a variety of diverse corporate stories like Bandai-Namco’s sadly defunct webcomic site, ShiftyLook, and even a miniseries about Figment the Dragon for Marvel. He’s got a really diverse array of skills, and he brings them all to bear here.

Yes, this is another supernatural teenager story, but it’s very different for a couple of reasons. 1. Rori is half Japanese, half Irish. In Japan, minorities are ostracized drastically, and a line from one of Rori’s teachers about how she needs to dye her hair black so as not to distract other students is, sadly, a real thing that happens in Japan.

2. At a critical point in the story, it’s revealed that Rori is self-harming. I’m not going to explore it because I know even descriptions of that are upsetting for some, but I’ll just say that this particular revelation is something Zub handles with elegance, grace and heartbreak. It’s a raw moment and never feels exploitative.

Apart from his good character work with Rori, the hilarious Ayane and the other humans and monsters we meet, Zub also sets up some really awesome fight sequences akin to the best shonen material out there. On top of that, there’s some truly awesome mythology being built up here and it’s really exciting and fast-paced.

I’m mentioning this here because I don’t know where else to mention it: what makes this book stand out for me besides everything else about is is that Zub has recruited writer, translator and Japanese folklore expert Zack Davisson to write essays about “Weird Japan” and Japanese culture as well as writeups of the various monsters encountered in each issue. Davisson–who, among other accomplishments, translated the late Satoshi Kon’s Opus for Dark Horse–is not only a smart scholar but a fluid writer, making this ancient history very compelling. Although it won’t be available in the trade paperback coming out in March, his work is definitely a highlight of the series and makes the back issues well worth tracking down.

The Art

Steve Cummings is not an artist I had ever heard of before. After reading and rereading this series, I’m starting to suspect there must be something about comics artists named Steve. Ditko, Rude…there’s some correlation between being named Steve and producing amazing, breathtaking artwork. Cummings is right in that tradition.

Welding manga and Western comics together, like so many do nowadays, Cummings–who actually lives in Yokohama, near Tokyo–comes up with some vibrant, exciting stuff. Every character is instantly memorable, from the hip fashions of Rori and Ayane to the cool menace of the various yokai. He also draws fight scenes so epic that you want to play anime OSTs under them. It’s breathtaking stuff and the rare double-page spread that crops up is always entirely justified and well worth sinking your eyes into.

What helps make Cummings’ art pop out is the wonderful coloring, done by John Rauch initially (with Zub assisting) and now Tamra Bonvillain. In both cases, the color adds an incredible cinematic sheen to this world, and it really makes me feel like I’m watching the best anime not on air. The way everyone’s powers are depicted, from glowing red lines to spirit punching, looks larger than life and it’s all due to some carefully chosen, well placed coloring work.

Final Thoughts

All back issues for this series can be found in print and online (esp. the gorgeous cover variants by artists like Phillip Tan), and the book is on hiatus for January and February, making this a book very easy to get caught up on. For those of you more inclined to down a new series in one shot, a trade paperback will be available in March collecting this first arc–titled “String Theory”–and while pre-orders aren’t up right now, they should be in the future. Like all first volumes of Image series, it’ll be priced at $9.99.

What Zub, Cummings and co. are doing here is an utter delight and a nice bridging of the gap between Eastern and Western comics. It’s a terrific story and well worth your time. Please, please check it out; if you’re into anime or manga at all but don’t know much about American comics, you’ll dig it. So will everyone else.

5 out of 5 stars

5 out of 5 stars

Wayward can be found in print at your local comics shop and online from Image Comics and Comixology.

Cover image via

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Categories: Comic Reviews

Author:Tom Speelman

A lifetime of reading comics and watching television has left Tom with an inexhaustible supply of pop culture knowledge from the obvious to the obscure. Rather than keep it all in his brain for use at parties, Tom turned to writing a few years ago to help him share that knowledge with as many people as are remotely interested. Tom writes for several websites including The Mary Sue, Strange Horizons, Loser City and others. For even further rambling, follow him on Twitter @tomtificate.

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2 Comments on “WAYWARD #1-5 Review: A Stunning Hybrid of Comics and Manga”

  1. 01/09/2015 at 4:17 PM #

    its great to see other artists be inspired and intermix ideas. I think originally the large eyes in Manga were inspired by Disney Art now western art is inspired by Manga.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Interview: WAYWARD, SKULLKICKERS and SAMURAI JACK Writer Jim Zub | Another Castle - 04/03/2015

    […] (Deadshot, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight), he launched a new creator-owned series from Image, Wayward. Image’s promotional efforts have branded the series as “Buffy in Japan” and, […]

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