Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic-book issue of significance. This week, it’s Wayward #10. Written by Jim Zub (Skullkickers, Samurai Jack) with art by Steve Cummings (Grimm Fairy Tales, Deadshot) and colors by Tamra Bonvillain (Sleepy Hollow, Ghost Racers), this issue spotlights the series’ mythological roots and sets up an exciting new status quo for the teenage heroes. (Warning: this review reveals major plot points.)
“Buffy in Japan” is a phrase that comes up over and over in promotional materials and reviews of Wayward, and for good reason. It’s a comic about teenagers in Tokyo who fight monsters with their supernatural abilities, so the Buffy The Vampire Slayer comparison is apt. But Joss Whedon’s TV series is primarily a teen drama while Jim Zub and Steve Cummings’ Wayward leans more heavily into the mythological aspects of its narrative. The scale of the story started small by focusing on Rori Lane as she moved from Ireland to Japan to live with her mother, using Rori’s adjustment period to ease the reader into the sprawling environment of Tokyo, rendered in painstaking detail by Cummings. Once the monsters started showing up, the narrative quickly accelerated and expanded in scope, but after a cataclysmic conclusion to the first arc, the creative team jumped away from Rori’s story to highlight a new character and bring the story back down to a more personal place.
Through the new central figure of Emi Ohara, Zub and Cummings explored the experience of a quiet girl who has lived her entire life in the structured routine of a traditional Japanese upbringing. Emi doesn’t have Rori’s rebellious spirit, but she’s forced to flee from home when she discovers that she can manipulate man-made objects and turn her body into those materials, making her one of the wayward children that give the series its name. She joins up with Rori’s friends Nikaido, a boy who gains power from the emotions of those around him, and Ayane, a girl formed from the supernatural energy shared by generations of cats, but the bond between these young cast members hasn’t been clear until this week’s Wayward #10, which ends with a revelation that dramatically changes the series’ future.
Most of this issue details Emi, Nikaido, and Ayane’s assault on a temple giving power to the monstrous yōkai terrorizing Tokyo’s citizens, an extended fight sequence showing off the creative team’s action skills. Zub sharpened his talent for quick, energetic storytelling on books like Skullkickers and Samurai Jack, and a lot of that involves knowing when to step back and let the artist take control. Cummings’ slick linework and Tamra Bonvillain’s rich coloring bring clarity and intensity to the action sequences, and Cummings’ manga influence is especially handy for creating dynamic motion in each panel. Bonvillain’s palette is dominated by shades of orange and yellow that bring heat to the action, and she marks the brief breathing moments in fight by incorporating cooler colors; when Nikaido leeches off his opponent’s anger, Bonvillain makes blue the dominant shade in the first panel to make the explosion in the second even more powerful.
The manga influence also grounds this book in a visual style that is representative of Japanese comics, one of the ways this creative team acknowledges the cultural foundation of their story. Zub and Cummings aren’t Japanese, but they have a deep respect for the country that shines through in their work. Cummings has lived in Japan for the past 13 years, and that knowledge of the environment and its people has been invaluable for bringing Tokyo to life in these pages. Zack Davisson, a scholar of Japanese folklore, ghosts, and manga, serves as a consultant for Zub, offering feedback on plots and scripts as well as contributing educational essays in the back matter of each issue. Davisson actually has two essays in Wayward #10, expanding on the background of the Goshiki Fudo (the temples that form a circle of protection around Tokyo) and sokushinbutsu (Buddhist monks who undergo a 3,000-day process of self-mummification), and while this information isn’t necessary to enjoy the story, it provides historical context that enlightens what Zub and Cummings are doing.
These essays are an extra incentive for readers to buy Wayward’s single issues and aren’t included in the collections, which is understandable but also a bit of a shame because they’ve become one of the best things about reading this book monthly. That’s no attack on the quality of what the creative team is doing on the main story; as the scope becomes more expansive, Davisson’s focus on the finer details of specific plot elements pulls readers deeper into the setting by fleshing out their knowledge of the history, folklore, and contemporary customs of Japan. What is the importance of Rori showing up and shooting her red ribbon-lightning down on the Goshiki Fudo? Davisson’s first essay answers that question, and also provides insight into how legend has shaped belief in Japanese culture. His work has become a beneficial storytelling tool for the reader, and his consulting is going to be invaluable moving forward as Zub begins to explore larger ideas about Japan’s past, present, and future.
Rori’s grand entrance with her companion Shirai at the end of the battle marks the first time this book’s entire cast of supernatural teens is together in one place, and Zub takes this opportunity to reveal what exactly unites these characters. Rori knows the connection thanks to her eye-opening experience with The Weave back in issue #8, and after striking the Goshiki Fudo, she makes a furious declaration to the demons that have been hunting her and her friends: “We’re not running anymore. Your time is over. We’re the new gods of Japan. And we’re going to wipe you out.” The key phrase there is “new gods of Japan,” which is loaded with all kinds of significance for the future of this series. Teenage gods are a considerable step up from teens with supernatural powers, and the nature of gods as beings tied to belief opens up a lot of avenues for Zub and Cummings to explore how changes in contemporary Japanese culture have impacted the future of its mythology.
These teens were on the defensive for the first year of this title, but with the reveal of their godly power comes an aggressive new attitude that changes the dynamic of the series moving forward. The team is all together and ready to fight, and it will be very nice to see the book’s two female leads finally engage after being apart; their differing perspectives should also create strong tension down the line, especially because Rori erased the memories of Emi’s parents so they forgot she existed. This creative team has set up a lot of intriguing developments for the second year of Wayward; ideally the “new gods of Japan” revelation means that the series will dig even deeper into the country’s mythology, because that’s what elevates the book beyond the “Buffy in Japan” simplification.