The first arc of Wolf was not very good, so the fact that Wolf #5 feels like a completely different series is a positive. Unfortunately, the new Wolf commits the same key mistake of the original by not bothering to establish itself in any way. Wolf 1-4 did not ever give us a clue to who Wolf is as a character and what the rules might be to the urban fantasy world he inhabits. We are informed that Antoine Wolfe is a gritty detective but we never see him detect, his client is a racist who never displays any racist behavior, and so on. Issue five jumps five years ahead and then proceeds to immediately ignore characterization in favor of wild plot developments. Wolf #5 is not without its charm as Ales Kot maintains his knack for pacing and humor, but even at its best, one can't really find much reason to care. There are two central plotlines going on in Wolf #5. There is the story of Anita, the resident werewolf and potential anti-christ living with a horribly accented Vampire and searching for the missing Antoine Wolfe. Also the tentacle face former porn star and current stoner Freddy is around contributing very little to the story or to society. The other plotline follows Wolfe through his time in captivity where he is daily drained of blood by an undead woman he hooked up with in Iraq (talk about your crazy ex-girlfriend, am I right?). This plotline remains entirely inexplicable for now as no clue is given to why or how Wolfe was imprisoned (some reference is made to Gibson the supposed racist from the last arc but he never made much sense either so it's not particularly helpful).
While these two threads are connect, they are divided by having entirely clashing tones. Anita's story is comedic and angst-ridden, like a trippy YA novel while Wolfe's is pure supernatural horror akin to a John Constantine story. It feels in this aspect, and a number of others, that five issues in, Kot is still unsure what he wants Wolf to be. It's not that the story needs to fit into any pre-existing category, but it needs to establish some sort of constant tone so that we can form some sort of connection with the world and the characters. Wolfe's predicament is horrific in a surface-y sort of way, but there's no reason to really care about what happens to him. Similarly Anita's journey of self-discovery is undermined by her complete lack of sympathetic characterization. She's an angry teen werewolf who seems to be rebelling against... something.
In place of characterization and plot development we have a number of Ales Kot standards that are, for lack of a better term, too preachy. We have two instances of characters discussing their sexuality for no apparent reason other than to show Kot's worldliness. Similarly, one sequence seems to exist just so Kot can nod to the legitimacy of polyamorous relationships. Kot also continues the theme of criticizing racism without actually showing any. Wolfe's undead mistress and kidnapper remarks how easy it is manipulate racists without telling us how or why. One can't help but admire Kot's recent dedication to spreading his own political and social beliefs, but he would have been better served to write a newsletter than shoe horn it into his supernatural thriller.
Taking over art duties from Matt Taylor is Ricarod Lopez Ortiz whose pencils are somewhere between the cartoony energy of Looney Tunes and the scratchy expressiveness of Sean Murphy. It's a style that makes up for its sparse boring backgrounds with memorable expressive characters and facial expressions. Characters vibrate, bounce, and jump through the air in kinetic bursts of scratchy motion lines. A scene of the afore mentioned Freddy rolling a join with his tentacles while reading a book and drinking lemonade is instantly memorable and funny for its pure ridiculous spectacle. Sadly Ortiz's excellent work is a bit out of place here as it over-emphasizes the comedic side of the story and robs the more horrific moments of most of their power.
To put all this simply, Wolf is a messy concoction of half-baked ideas, mismatched tones, and odd plot-devices. I might be inclined to say that Wolf would improve as it got underway, but as a fifth issue, I can't help but see this as an indication that the series isn't improving and won't anytime soon.
Wolf #5 Writer: Ales Kot Artist: Ricardo Lopez Ortiz Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 1/20/16 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital