Review: Wayward #9

Wayward09_CoverAThe first few issues of Image Comics‘ creator-owned ongoing series Wayward made it one of my favorite comics that nobody else seemed to be reading, but lately, I’ve been wishing it would live up to the promise it showed at the start. The initial Buffy-meets-anime premise was what hooked me: an Irish teenager named Rori Lane moves to Japan to live with her Japanese mother, and in the midst of adjusting to her new life, discovers that she is a Magical Girl in a Tokyo swarming with yokai, monsters from Japanese folklore. In issue six, however, the series shifted focus to a new protagonist, Emi Ohara, and the narrative has been more fragmented and less tightly written since then. The latest issue continues to suffer from the “second-album curse” of an ongoing series trying to expand its mythology after an extraordinary first story arc.

Wayward #9 tries to cover too much ground, and as a result, it’s a frustrating midpoint in a story whose forward progression is way too slow for a monthly ongoing series. The first six pages seem to come from some other comic entirely, with a tiny “Then” caption in the upper left corner of the first page the only indication that this is a flashback. But how far back, and how does it connect to the storylines in present-day Tokyo? Writer Jim Zub‘s stilted dialogue clarifies little, and the twist at the end of this flashback section is more perplexing than intriguing.

Things pick up when the story returns to the present day, especially because Steve Cummings‘s manga-influenced art style lends itself much better to the emotional faces of modern teenagers than to wide-angle images of medieval Japanese villages. The team of superpowered teens still have one-note personalities – again, awkward dialogue is often the problem – and a critique of young women’s place in Japanese society comes across as both heavy-handed and simplistic, especially since it comes from a white male writer and artist.

Fortunately, the second half of Wayward #9 promises more excitement to come. It introduces a creepy new villain whose origin and alliances call the hero team’s plans into question. Then, Rori Lane returns to help several plotlines converge (no hints about those first six pages, though) and to use her powers toward a major change that might be necessary but might just be cruel. The final two pages, each dominated by a single image and nearly text-free, show that Cummings is more skilled at conveying narrative than Zub. They’re packed with meaning and provide a great pay-off for an episode in Wayward #8 that seemed like a side quest. Despite the slow start, this installment left me hopeful for a delightfully weird climax to this chapter of Wayward. But if you’re not already following the series, now is not the best time to jump in: you’ll be confused, not only about the story itself, but about why readers like me are sticking with it.

Story: Jim Zub Art: Steve Cummings
Story: 5.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 6.5 Recommendation: Pass

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

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