COMIC BOOK REVIEW: WAYWARD VOLUME 1: STRING THEORY / AUTHOR: JIM ZUB / ARTIST: STEVE CUMMINGS / PUBLISHER: IMAGE COMICS / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 7TH
In western entertainment, Japan gets a bit of a bum rap; depicted as a land where samurai battle ninja, geisha coo from the side lines, and Godzilla wrecks another skyscraper. Along with umpteen badly translated kanji tats, it’s really no wonder. But with Jim Zub and Steve Cummings’ Wayward, the record gets set straight. String Theory combines issues 1 – 5 of the supernatural misadventure for Image’s roster, and it’s very nearly another exceptional addition. The in-depth foreword from writer and academic Zach Davisson offers a first-hand insight into the prevalence of ‘Japan as Decoration’ and how the duo got it right. Indeed, Wayward offers a departure from comics which only ever offer a caricature of the country.
The supernatural aspects take cues from Japan’s rich history and richer mythology, bringing together kappa’s, kitsune and others beside in the shadows under Tokyo. The spooky side wouldn’t be worth spit if it wasn’t for the strong central character, troubled teen Rori Lane, the daughter of an Irish engineer and Japanese seamstress. After a major falling out with her dad, Rori movies to Japan to live with her mum. Already out of place with her bright red hair and less than perfect grasp on the lingo, she soon finds herself feeling alone, frustrated and able to see lines of spirit energy.
She discovers others who have paranormal powers, the most intriguing being Ayane, who’s funny and quirky in all the right ways. Shirai is, at this stage in the story, too much of an archetype to care much about, and Nikaido, while fascinating, hasn’t had nearly enough room to develop. It might not always hit the right mark, the self-harm in particular is lazy shorthand, but they’re a fairly strong bunch.
As with a lot of narratives concerning Japan, it deals with the county’s clash with modernity. Given it’s Rori’s first time in the country, the reader shares in her reverence. Cummings’ art is pleasantly detailed, right down to the background kanji, which gives Japanese speakers hints and clues on the plot. There’s some subtleties to the narrative, too, offering glimpses into the wider economic situation of Tokyo, and sly wind-ups of genre tropes, though the story and characters do fall prey to others. The second trade paperback is sure to expand on what Zub and Cummings have captured, maybe enough to make Wayward essential reading.
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