This frenetic first issue by Jim Zub and Steven Cummings layers chaos upon chaos, allowing their teenage hero’s resilience and maturity to shine through. It’s a strong debut issue in which the mundane and the supernatural reflect and reinforce each other.
Anyone who has spent time living in another part of the world can attest to how difficult it can be to adjust to life as a foreigner. Not only are the linguistic and cultural barriers tangible obstacles, but the altered pace of life often requires just as difficult and dizzying an adjustment.
It is a difficult sensation to describe – a complete and utter disorientation that borders on feeling like a dream – which is why Wayward #1, by Jim Zub and Steven Cummings, is such an awe-inspiring piece of art.
The story follows Rori, a thirteen-year-old Irish-Japanese girl who moves from the Emerald Isle to Tokyo to live with her mother, following the divorce of her parents. As she steps off the plane, she is bombarded by the sights and sounds of Tokyo, tracing her way through the high-rise buildings and throngs of people to the modest, single-room apartment she now shares with her mother.
As she explores the labyrinth of her new neighbourhood, she sees brief flashes of patterns and pathways through the chaos, before finally realizing that things are not what they seem; she is followed by a strange herd of cats that mysteriously vanish, attacked by monstrous “turtle-head” creatures and saved by an equally mysterious warrior girl named Ayane.
There is something masterful about the way in which Zub has crafted this story. Each new unknown both mirrors and amplifies the ones that came before. From dealing with the new living situation as a child of divorced parents, to moving across the world to a brand new country and culture, to the shocking realization that there are monsters and spirits roaming the streets, Zub has built the themes of discovery and the unknown in a remarkably resonant manner.
These themes are made especially vivid through Rori’s own unique ability to see patterns and pathways. The artwork by Cummings (coloured by Zub and John Rauch) highlights exactly what makes Rori so special. In spite of the maelstrom of changes and dangers that surround her, she is able to cut through the sound and fury and find her way.
The vibrancy of the world – made all the more chaotic by Cummings and Zub’s heavily populated cityscapes and bright, almost cartoonish colours – fades into monochrome as her paths and patterns glow in her mind’s eye. It is a simple visual trick that is extremely effective, tying the visuals to the storytelling in a way that is tangible and meaningful.
Rori is remarkably well-adjusted when one considers the number of variables she is juggling. What is so inspiring about her as a character is that there is something deeply heroic about her before the need for heroism even shows itself. Before the monsters attack and Ayane arrives to help, Rori demonstrates a quiet strength, composure, and maturity that few people her age possess.
When one thinks of a hero, one envisions a heightened version of themselves – or, rather, the self that one wishes they could be: brave, intelligent, compassionate, and intuitive. Rori embodies all of these qualities before a single monster fight erupts, setting Wayward up to be the sort of book in which the hero can triumph by not just sheer force, but rather by strength of character.
Jim Zub (W), Steven Cummings (A) • Image Comics, $3.50, August 27, 2014.