Despite fun villains, compelling designs, and some stellar visuals, Wayward #14 feels like it lacks depth where it really counts. Summing up Wayward is hard for me. The plot is uneven, but effective. Characters are interesting, but stilted. Set-pieces of the action can be visually stunning, but sort of shallow. Take Dermot Lane, for instance. In this issue, Rori's father spends most of his panels being a cardboard cutout of a character: he's Irish, he's a dad, he has an accent, and he's mad! Then, just when you've settled in to this fairly uninteresting perception of the fellow, the guy starts carving Gaelic runes into shit.
Is that what's carrying this book, though? At times, I find myself wondering whether the mythological elements and their novel interpretations within the confines of this story are enough to keep readers intrigued. Original characters don't need to be particularly interesting when they are either juxtaposed with or channelers of cultural monoliths that have thousands of years of staying power.
Of course, there's more to Wayward than just a showcase of yokai: if there wasn't, I don't think it would still be published, nor would I still bother reading it, frankly. But the experience of reading Wayward is interesting in that reading it monthly and reading a trade feel more different than a similar reading exercise with another title. Much of the substance of the series comes from reading it while focused on the meat of whatever the current arc is concerned with. This isn't something that comes across well in single issues, sometimes. Issues of Wayward, taken individually, often have an uneven pull between character development and the plot at hand. Switching from the nefarious plot of the villain to tender character moments feels like an exercise in plot necessity rather than an organic development.
The pencils don't do a ton of favors here. Massive character moments aren't really sold unless something supernatural is dominating the scene. While the supernatural is so often a boon that this rarely matters, sometimes people with crazy powers get upset when they're not blowing shit up, and one particular scene that's really supposed to pack a wallop emotionally in this issue falls dead flat for me as the art sort of shrugs its shoulders in between supernatural encounters.
As much as the overall plot has often been the strong point carrying the series--which is one of the reasons I think reading a trade actually holds up as a better reading experience--that's starting to buckle here in this issue. The villains are compelling, but the children seem almost laughably stupid. I might be willing to forgive their ignorance if they were more likable, but at some point in this arc the story started taking for granted the fact that I would care about these kids no matter what.
There simply aren't enough new, successful story beats for me to latch back onto some of these characters and say, "hey, you know what, I hope they turn out alright." While such vague support for characters makes sense in a story that is trying to blur the lines between good and evil, this particular story in the last few chapters has not spent the time with these characters necessary to allow them to carry the burden of being morally ambiguous. In other words, either these characters are suffering from being underdeveloped, or they are suffering because the developments of the story have moved on without them.
Despite all of this unevenness, I still find myself enjoying this book in some important ways. It has a raw, original feel to it, despite leaning so heavily on extant ideas. It's just not the kind of mix of mythology and super powers that usually saturates comic stands. And, speaking of saturated, the color work on this title is special. This coloring team is nailing it week in and week out, and almost single-handedly defining the feel of this comic.
While the brisk pace of this series was one of the more successful things about the previous arc, the older characters are starting to be alienated, and it's something that needs to be balanced soon.
Wayward #14 Writer: Jim Zub Artist: Steve Cummings Colorist: Tamra Bonvillain Publisher: Image Comics Price: Digital $2.99 Print $3.50 Format: Ongoing, Print/Digital