By Christopher Helton
I want to get the hyperbole out of the way at the beginning of this: If Wayward, the new Image comic from Jim Zub and Steve Cummings isn't the next Saga, it will be a damn criminal shame. This is one of the most engaging comics that I have read in a while, and you need to read it too.
The first thing that drew me in was Cummings' art. I found the style to be reminiscent of an anime movie, with good pacing and panels full of detail that manage to remain uncluttered at the same time. More than once, the art made me think back to the original Ghost In The Shell movie, and while the character designs are much fresher and rooted in a contemporary aesthetic, there is a callback for me.
It is, after all, Cummings' art that is our passport to this world, introducing us to Rori Lane and her new home of Tokyo. While his splash pages can suffer from appearing too much like a photographic freeze frame, his art elsewhere in the issue is dynamic and does a good job of portraying the action of the story. I admit that I have never been to Tokyo, but from what I have seen in movies and photographs, the portrayal of the city in the book seems spot on. I don't know that I can say enough about just how gorgeous the art in this issue really is.
The work of colorists John Rauch and Zub cannot be ignored either. Their palette is bright and engaging without being lurid, giving a subtle depth to the art. You can never ignore the importance of a colorist to a comic's art.
Now, before we get to the story, we should talk about the elephant in the room. The marketing of this book has been none too subtle in calling Wayard a Buffy The Vampire Slayer for a new generation. For a lot of geeks of a certain age, this can be a bold claim. But is it just hype?
There are similarities between Buffy and Wayward: a young woman in a new city, she has a strange fate that she doesn't quite understand, she is obviously gifted with unusual abilities and the supernatural bursts into her world. Just looking at it this way, Wayward could seem like a knock off, but I think it is in the story where Wayward becomes something different.
Zub's deft characterizations and subtle storytelling (keeping in mind that this is the same person who brought us Skullkickers) work in concert with Cummings' art to create an interesting and engaging lead in Rori Lane. The things that set Rori apart from Buffy are mostly cultural. Rori is rooted in Japanese culture, giving her a tie to a greater story and making her a part of a larger myth cycle. I am not saying that the character of Buffy wasn't mythic, but her qualities came more from the culture that was created around her rather than the culture that she was a part of already.
Regardless, in Rori Lane Wayward has a strong female lead that has her own identity. Despite being part of a greater Japanese supernatural world, she is also apart from that because of her own cultural heritage of being half Irish and half Japanese. This dual nature extends, as she discovers the supernatural world around her, making her a part of two worlds in that regard as well.
The introduction of the supernatural is subtle at first. Rori gets a flash early in the story of the other world that she is a part of, pulling her both into her new home and into a stranger world. The first overt introduction of the supernatural is handled well, with Rori overwhelmed at first and then drawn into things as her nature exerts itself. The pacing of this introduction to the supernatural does not overwhelm the story or come across as forced. Zub and Cummings reveal enough to make you interested, but not so much as to overwhelm or drive you away. This first issue is a very well written story.
So, do I recommend that people pick up this comic? Hell, yes. I have been recommending this for a while already. I received a preview look at this comic about a month ago and since then I have been telling everyone I know who reads comics that they need to pick up this book. You need to pick up this book if you are a fan of supernatural thrillers that feature deftly written and empowered female leads. Wayward is the next Saga and the next Buffy The Vampire Slayer, this is a comic that needs to be owned and read by anyone who wants well-made comics with well-crafted female leads. I cannot wait for the next issue.
Christopher Helton is a blogger, podcaster and tabletop RPG publisher who talks about games and other forms of geekery at the long-running Dorkland! blog. He is also the co-publisher at the ENnie Award winning Battlefield Press, Inc. You can find him on Twitter at @dorkland and on G+ at https://plus.google.com/+ChristopherHelton/ where he will talk your ear off about gaming and comics.