Wayward #11 Discussion: On Being Wayward

Written by: Jim Zub

Art by: Steve Cummings

Publisher: Image

*SPOILER WARNING: I’m going to be talking about some major plot details from earlier issues of Wayward*

My last review of a Wayward comic will be Issue 10. At this point, you’re either reading it or you aren’t, and if you are, well you don’t need me to tell you how good every issue is. The lowest I’ve scored an issue of Wayward is an 8/10, and I don’t foresee that changing. Jim Zub’s script and characters will always be stellar, and Steve Cumming’s art will always be fantastic.

That’s just how it is.

Instead, I want to talk about this comic in a different light, to discuss it on either a more literary or personal basis. Wayward has become my favorite comic series, and I don’t want to stop talking about it. So, for this first Wayward Discussion, I want to look at the term wayward itself and see how it applies to our main cast of characters. It’s quite the loaded word. defines wayward as, “turned or turning away from what is right or proper; willful; disobedient” and “swayed or prompted by caprice; capricious.” Both of these definitions certainly apply to Rori, Ohara, and even our lead villain, who gets an introduction in Issue 11, yet the actual definition of wayward isn’t where I’m inclined to turn.

It is impossible to separate the term wayward from “Wayward Son,” the famous song by Kansas. As soon as I saw the title of this comic back in August of 2014 (time flies!), my mind went to these lyrics:

Carry on my wayward son
There’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more

The character in this song is the lens with which I view Rori, Ohara, and now Nurarihyon. They’re not just blowing with the breeze, confused and acting on impulse, but lost as well. They’re tired. They have no home. They don’t know where they’re going or what they’re supposed to do, and they only have this vague idea that peace will come, the first two by defeating the Yokai for good and the latter by restoring order.

In the very first issue of Wayward, Rori thinks of coming to Japan as returning to a home she’s never been. She hopes she’s found her peace, though as we know, that doesn’t happen. Instead, she’s hit with a bit of a culture shock and is seen eating alone more often than not. Her mother is there, but she works late, and on the whole, Japan turns out to be no different than any other place. By the end of Issue 5, her mother is dead, she’s stuck with budding superpowers that are confusing and dangerous, and there are demon mobsters trying to kill her.

She’s still lost, now more than ever.

Ohara is introduced in Issue 6 and has a very different outlook on Japan. She’s lived there all her life, yet she feels trapped in rigid social constructs that don’t seem fair. She has all these expectations placed on her for being Japanese, and she doesn’t know what to do with any of them. To make matters worse, she feels guilty for even thinking about going against her parents and tradition.

She’s lost, though in a very different way.

Issue 11 finally introduces us to Nurarihyon, our demon mobster who really enjoys fire. He opens the comic with the line, “Japan. 128 million people, but I have never been one of them.” He walks down the streets, baffled and enraged by what has happened to the Yokai. His people worked hard to create order, yet now they’re remembered as bad antagonists in manga and anime. He needs to fix everything, and despite all his careful planning, I’m not certain he really knows how. Issue 10 was a huge defeat, one that might be impossible to shake off.

Like Rori and Ohara, he too is lost.

I could go into the other characters as well, because in their own, individual ways, they’re also lost and acting on impulse, Ayane especially. I’ll refrain though, because more examples aren’t important anyways. The real question is: What does this mean? The answer is…well, I think pretty simple. Great stories need great characters, and making “waywardness” the main theme of your cast is an easy way to bring complexity to characters in a short time frame. By the end of the first issue, I was intrigued and in love with Rori; by the end of the sixth issue I could say the same about Ohara. Now that Issue 11 is here and gone, I can say I’m quite impressed and intrigued with Nurarihyon. He’s more than just a “Japanese demon mobster.”

The rest of the cast haven’t had a similar, in-depth look yet (and might not), but we’ve certainly spent enough time with them now to really get to know them.

They’re complicated; they’re strange; they don’t belong; yet they’re also different from each other. They have this trait that brings them all together, sure; however, it’s not the trait they would use when defining themselves. Rori is strong, she’s a leader. Ohara sees herself as a unit in her family: daughter. Ayane is a fighter, carefree yet boiling with anger underneath the surface. Nikaido is stoic and levelheaded, the planner. Shirai is a brawler, and above all else, loyal.

These are characters that might admit to being scared in the middle of the night, but lost? Acting on impulse? No. Not when they try to plan things out, not when they know their purpose.

However, that Kansas song also has this verse:

Masquerading as a man with a reason
My charade is the event of the season
And if I claim to be a wise man,
Well, it surely means that I don’t know

And now we’re back to our dictionary definition of wayward. Every character here, with maybe the exception of Nurarihyon, is acting on impulse. Rori and her team look at this battle with the Yokai as their purpose, yet they don’t know why they’ve been chosen to do this or that it’s even the right thing to do. Rori has a vendetta, her mother was murdered, and Ayane clearly has her own reasons, but the others? The biggest betrayal to Ohara has nothing to do with Yokai but her own friends, and we still haven’t seen enough about Nikadi or Shirai to know why they’re fighting.

But even if we did, at the end of the day: No one knows what the hell is going on or what the hell they should be doing. Not really anyways. And while Rori got hit with a big swell of information in Issue 10, she clearly doesn’t know what to do with it.

The last line of Issue 10 is her claiming, “We’re the new Gods of Japan, and we’re going to wipe you out!” At the time, that was nothing short of badass, but fast-forward to Issue 11 and we find out that Rori screwed up. She went too far, and now the weave itself wants her gone.

Because when you give teenagers the powers of Gods, you’re setting up one hellova charade where the people are masquerading reason yet completely oblivious to that fact.

And this is why waywardness is such a great theme. Now bring on Issue 12.