By Patrick Larose
“No curses. No wars. No love.”
These are the three rules the only wizard in New York City sets for his clients.
Curse Words is, in many ways, the answer to the question of what a person with magic powers does in a modern-day setting. Do they hide underground? Do they try to conquer? Nah, the simpler and more obvious answer is this: they try to make money.
Urban fantasy is a genre that’s frustrated me for a long time even going all the way back to Harry Potter. When someone placed in our world has the ability to manipulate and change the very nature of reality, I could never believe they would hide.
In Curse Words #1, a wizard named Wizord comes to New York City from another dimension. He’s on a mission to condemn the Earth and bring about an apocalypse in the name of his master. Wizord comes from a fantasy world not that much unlike Conan the Barbarian. From a brutal, still very feudal place where magic’s wielded by the corrupt and with their power they enslave the innocent.
When he comes to Earth, he sees an alternative. He sees a place of stability, a place with modern technological conveniences. There are grocery stores, infrastructure, and TV but maybe most of all there’s no magic. Suddenly things because infinitely easier.
What a public wizard becomes in a modern setting and how they find that place becomes the crux of this first issue and in claiming that focus tells one of the most complete single issues I’ve read in a long time.
Charles Soule writes his characters with this type of glibness—both playing the cartoonish nature of the tropes he draws from while allowing that to be a reality taken at face value. The magic and its users are weird clowns but there’s a human, emotional sincerity that underlines their theatrical flair.
When we meet Wizord—he’s Rasputin. He’s a mad man in robes and long beard and hair and ready to destroy everything. He exists with a brutal fantasy mindset but once given the opportunity to see the world without obvious masters, slaves and where genuine progress is allowed to happen—he gets to process that. So if these people who don’t even have magic get to be free, why not him too?
Ryan Browne’s art goes one step further—creating this vision of a New York you might see in any other comic and providing a canvas to contrast with the magic Wizord brings. The spells have a visual texture to them—often pluming from his surroundings like smoke made from chewed bubblegum. The magic of this world is confined to its sources, meaning it never heightens the world as much as it only heightens the characters. This places Wizord in a particular bubble. He’ll always be an other—a foreigner from a very strange world even when he puts on a nice suit, a slick haircut, and sunglasses.
This is a guy who waltzes around town with a koala familiar, who casts spells openly and isn’t afraid to fly through the middle of a city. Yet still, we get to see the truth—what he saw on Earth, what he saw in the middle he chose to spare is what he wanted to be.
The premise of Curse Words looks to almost be like Breaking Bad played in reverse. This is a story about a bad guy, made unique by his skills, who now wants to do good for his own personal gain. The comic is smart, it’s funny and charming but ultimately it shows how you don’t become a bad person without doing bad things and that sometimes walking away from who you were isn’t always an easy thing to do.
Curse Words #1
Writer: Charles Soule
Artist: Ryan Browne
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 Print/$3.99 Digitial