Wayward, Volume 2: Ties That Bind

Wayward, Volume 2: Ties That BindCreator: Jim Zub and Steve Cummings
Publisher: Image Comics
ISBN: 9781632154033
Released: August 2015
Original run: 2015

Ties That Bind is the second volume of the American comic series Wayward, created by Jim Zub and Steve Cummings and released by Image Comics. Anything having to do with yokai immediately catches my attention, and I had previously read and enjoyed some of Zub’s earlier work, so I was very interested in reading Wayward. I thoroughly enjoyed the first collected volume in the series, String Theory, meaning that there was absolutely no question that I would be picking up the second, too. (Well, at least that was the case before I learned that a deluxe omnibus edition was going to be released—then there was a difficult choice to be made.) Ties That Bind, published in 2015, collects the sixth through tenth issues of Wayward which were originally serialized between March and July 2015. Also included is an introduction by Charles Soule as well as several yokai essays by Zack Davisson which I especially appreciate. For this particular volume, Zub is credited for the story and Cummings for the line art while the credit for the color art goes to Tamara Bonvillain and color flats to Ludwig Olimba.

Emi Ohara’s life follows a simple, predictable routine. Without much variation from day to day she wakes up, goes to school, and returns home. But Emi yearns to have the exciting lives that the heroines of her favorite shoujo manga enjoy. Little does she know that she’ll get what she wished for, but not at all in the way that she expected—Emi discovers she has the ability to manipulate her body and the materials around her in astonishing ways. Suddenly, among other strange developments, her touch is able to melt and mold plastic and her arm can take on the characteristics of metal and glass. At first she thinks it’s all a dream, but then she is chased down by a group of monstrous kitsune only to be rescued by Ayane and Nikaido, two young people who have their own special powers and who are also the yokai’s targets. It’s been three months since the other members of their group, Rori and Shirai, disappeared during the chaos of an epic confrontation with a faction of yokai. At this point Ayane and Nikaido are welcoming any allies they can find, and that includes Emi.

Wayward, Volume 2, page 40Whereas String Theory largely followed Rori’s perspective of the supernatural events unfolding in Tokyo, much of the focus of Ties that Bind is on Emi. Some of the contrasts between the young women as two of the leads in the story are particularly interesting. Rori, who is half-Japanese and half-Irish, is often considered to be an outsider within Japanese society. Emi, on the other hand, is a “proper Japanese girl,” dutiful and obedient even though she finds that role to be increasingly suffocating. Rori is a Weaver with the ability to alter reality and change a person’s fate. (Just how incredibly powerful and far-reaching her talents truly are is still in the process of being revealed, but the continuing development and evolution of her skills in Ties That Bind is impressive.) However, Emi, who like Rori is sensitive to patterns and seems to be able to at least partially identify the course of fate and destiny, feels trapped and unable to make meaningful choices or to change the direction of those events that have already been set in motion.

At times, Wayward can be an extremely violent series. Ayane’s way of taking charge of the situation is to go on the attack, dragging Nikaido and Emi along with her. The yokai, threatened by the very existence of the supernaturally-gifted teens, are more than willing to fight back. The resulting battles are intense, bloody, and even gruesome. But the yokai aren’t united in their efforts—Ties That Bind introduces the tsuchigumo, or dirt spiders, who would seem to have their own agenda. I love that Wayward incorporates the lore and, especially in the case of the dirt spiders, the history surrounding yokai. The series’ interpretation of yokai and traditional tales is its own and is closely integrated with an entirely new, contemporary story. Wayward effectively creates a cohesive and compelling narrative that can be enjoyed by readers who are already familiar with yokai as well as by those who are not. Ties That Bind brings together new characters, new conflicts, and new plot threads while expanding and further developing those that had already been established. Wayward is an excellent series with great art, characters, and story; I’m definitely looking forward to the next volume.

Wayward, Volume 1: String Theory

Wayward, Volume 1Creator: Jim Zub and Steve Cummings
Publisher: Image Comics
ISBN: 9781632151735
Released: March 2015
Original run: 2014

Wayward is an ongoing comic series created by Jim Zub and Steve Cummings and published by Image Comics. Zub, a creator from Canada, is primarily responsible for writing the story while Cummings, currently based in Japan, is the series’ line artist. Along with Tamra Bonvillain, Ross A. Campbell, Josh Perez, and John Rauch, Zub also worked on the comics’ color art with additional flats done by Ludwig Olimba. Wayward was first brought to my attention due to Zub’s involvement—I had previously read and enjoyed some of his other work—but my curiosity was piqued even more when I learned that Zack Davisson was writing bonus material for the series in the form of background information on yokai. It’s not a secret that I have a particular fondness for yokai; I was very interested in seeing what sort of role Japan’s mythological and legendary creatures would play in the comic. The first trade collection, String Theory, was published in 2015. It includes the first five issues of Wayward originally released in 2014 as well as additional essays written by Davisson.

Not long after her parents divorced, Rori Lane left Ireland to be with her mother in Japan. Living with her father just wasn’t working for any of them. Of course, this does mean that Rori will have to start her life over again in a county she’s never even visited. Her mother may be a native Tokyoite, but the city is unlike anywhere else she’s ever been before. For a loner like Rori, and for a young half-Japanese woman such as herself, fitting in and feeling comfortable in Japan and at her new school won’t be an easy task. To complicate matters further, she has a curious but occasionally useful ability that allows her to see the patterns connecting people, places, and events. And to some small extent, she can even control the world around her because of it. By following those threads of destiny, she finds herself drawn to several young people who are also gifted in peculiar ways. It’s good to have found a small group of friends, people around whom she can feel a little more at ease, but it’s not long before they are all pulled into a dangerous power struggle within the city that they don’t even understand.

Wayward, Volume 1, page 4String Theory provides a fantastic start to Wayward, a contemporary fantasy action series with prominent influences drawn from traditional Japanese folklore with modern twists. Rori encounters various yokai throughout String Theory, beginning with a trio of monstrous and extremely dangerous kappa. Although the designs, abilities, and basic natures of the yokai in String Theory are directly inspired by their original counterparts, they are also distinctive to Wayward. It all works very well. The series is action-packed, with dramatic supernatural battles, but it also has more introspective personal conflicts as well. Rori finds herself overwhelmed, thrust into circumstances to which she brings very little knowledge. As String Theory progresses, more and more is revealed about how the world of the series functions as Rori herself begins to piece together how it works. As Rori learns more so do the readers, but there are still plenty of mysteries that have yet to be fully explored.

The worldbuilding in String Theory is excellent. Even with the phenomenal powers of the main characters and the presence of yokai and monsters, the supernatural Tokyo of Wayward looks and feels like a real place. A large part of this is due to Cummings’ wonderful illustrations and the work of the series’ colorists. I love the colors in String Theory. They range from muted and subdued palettes to colors that are flashy and vibrant, almost appearing to glow. String Theory can be violent and grotesque and includes elements of horror, but it is also beautifully illustrated. I also particularly liked the visual representation of Rori’s abilities, reminiscent of the concept of the red string of fate found in Japanese culture. The characters introduced in String Theory are great, too; I’m very curious to see how their fated destinies will continue to weave together. I thoroughly enjoyed the first volume of Wayward—it has chaotic action as well as quiet moments, humor as well as drama—and look forward to the next installment a great deal.


HenshinCreator: J. M. Ken Niimura
U.S. publisher: Image Comics
ISBN: 9781632152428
Released: January 2015
Original release: 2014

J. M. Ken Niimura is probably best known for his collaboration as an illustrator with writer Joe Kelly on I Kill Giants, an award-winning American comic that was completed in 2008. Among many other honors, the work earned Niimura and Kelly the top International Manga Award in 2012. A Spanish artist of Japanese descent, Niimura currently lives and works in Tokyo. Henshin is his first major Japanese publication. The collection includes thirteen short manga that were originally released online between 2013 and 2014 on the website for Ikki, a magazine that has been the home to some of my favorite mangaka, before finally being collected into a single volume. (An interesting sidenote: I Kill Giants was also published in Japan by Ikki Comix.) Henshin was subsequently released in Spanish in 2014 by Norma Editorial and in English by Image Comics in 2015. Out of the three print releases of Henshin, the English-language edition has the largest trim size.

The manga collected in Henshin are short, anywhere from twelve to twenty-eight pages in length. Although there are a variety of genres and styles, the stories generally fall into one of two broad categories: those that are semi-autobiographical, focusing on either Niimura’s creative processes or his love of cats, and those that are fictional narratives largely set in or near Tokyo or otherwise featuring Tokyoites. For the most part, the individual manga are unrelated and stand perfectly well on their own, but the first and last stories do share the same lead characters and there is a running episodic story about Niimura and a cat that lives near his apartment. Henshin includes slice-of-life manga, as well as manga with science fiction and fantasy elements, pieces infused with nostalgia, family and friends, pieces where loneliness and missed connections predominate, stories with a bit of humor, and stories with a bit of sadness.

MerciAlthough the manga in Henshin are all different, they do share some thematic and narrative similarities. The first story, “No Good,” perfectly captures the tone of the volume as a whole. It starts out as a seemingly innocent tale but it suddenly shifts into something completely unexpected and outlandish. Most of the stories in Henshin have some sort of twist to them that require the reader to reconsider and reevaluate everything that has come before. Those surprising plot developments may be humorous, touching, absurd, disconcerting, or even morbid, in any combination. In Japanese, “henshin” means transformation, metamorphosis, or change, which is exactly what the stories collected in the volume have to offer—pivotal moments in which all of a sudden things are no longer the same, demanding a new and different understanding of reality.

Niimura exhibits a range of art styles in Henshin, drawing influence from Asian, European, and American comics traditions. Some of the illustrations are simple caricatures while others are more detailed or involved, some even reminiscent of classic ink wash paintings. The artwork in each of the short manga is tailored to fit the specific story and its mood, but in every case Niimura’s illustrations show impressive narrative strength. In general, Henshin uses minimal text and dialogue—one manga is even completely wordless—relying on the artwork (which performs magnificently) to actively aid in the telling of the stories. Henshin is an excellent and rather delightful collection of charming and quirky short manga that, in all of its strangeness and occasional absurdity, remains emotionally relevant and carries an impact. I enjoyed Henshin immensely and hope to have the opportunity to read more of Niimura’s comics and manga in the future.