Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

23 September 2016

Weirdworld, v. 1: Where Lost Things Go

Collects: Weirdworld v. 2 #1-6 (2016)

Released: July 2016 (Marvel)

Format: 136 pages / color / $17.99 / ISBN: 9781302900434

What is this?: Becca, a teenager from Miami, survives a plane crash in Weirdworld, a magical realm separate from Earth; with the help of a transformed wizard and a wizard slayer, she looks for a way home.

The culprits: Writer Sam Humphries and artist Mike del Mundo

Weirdworld is a Marvel ‘70s concept, of course. It started in Marvel Super Action #1 (1976) as a fantasy world unconnected to the Marvel Universe. The Weirdworld stories, which were published between ’76 and ’82, starred a couple of Elves with a Dwarf sidekick on a quest. There were wizards and dragons, magic and Evil; the land masses took the shapes of stars and dragons and skulls. That’s the kind of place Weirdworld was. You can find the ten or so issues that featured Weirdworld in Weirdworld: Warriors of the Shadow Realm.

Those stories have nothing to do with the book I’m reviewing.

Weirdworld coverIn 2015, Marvel resurrected the name for one of the worlds in the Secret Wars catalog. That Weirdworld gathered together some of Marvel’s fantasy / magic characters, like Arkon, sorceress Jennifer Kale, and Morgan le Fay, along with some leftovers from weird books, like Skull the Slayer and Man-Thing. That five-issue series was collected in Weirdworld, v. 0: Warzones!

I’m not going to be talking about that book either.

Following Secret Wars, Marvel decided to make Weirdworld an ongoing book, with a new writer, Sam Humphries, assigned to the book. (Mike del Mundo remained the artist.) The first collection — and the only collection, since the book was stealth canceled after six issues — is Weirdworld, v. 1: Where Lost Things Go.

Lost Things owes much more to books like Marvel’s glorious failure Skull the Slayer than the original Weirdworld stories. Teenager Becca is the lone survivor of a plane crash on Weirdworld; the airplane was heading from Miami to Mexico, but the wizard Ogeode was able to pull the passenger jet into Weirdworld using his magic MacGuffin, the Wuxian Seed. To survive, Becca falls in with wizard slayer Goleta just after she kills Ogeode. Like Skull, Becca is mystified by this strange world she finds herself in, part fantasy and part remnants from Earth, and she just wants to get home. Unlike Skull, however, Becca has no survival skills, relying on Goleta and other companions to survive.

I don’t know if that should be a problem, but I think it is. Despite not being able to fight her way out of a wet paper bag, Becca is not useless — she usually rises to the occasion, whatever the occasion is, in her bumbling way, although I have trouble remembering her contributions. She’s lacking as a protagonist, generally playing the part of a mopey teenager or screaming bystander with a weird haircut. The only time I felt any real resonance with Becca was when she thought about her mother, who committed suicide and whose ashes Becca was transporting to Mexico. Becca’s struggle to forgive and love her mother, coming to grips with her decision to commit suicide, is by far the strongest part of Lost Things. Becca’s grief, in all its expressions, feels real, and exploration of suicide’s effects on survivors is rare in comics.

My ambivalence over Becca is a result on Weirdworld’s lack of focus on its viewpoint character. That’s emblematic of the series as a whole; Humphries is concentrating on world building in the early issues, mentioning a lot of details that might have become important in the long run. Given the limited amount of time the book had, though, his time would have been better spent elsewhere. In six issues, Lost Things has subplots including a war between Morgan le Fay and Jennifer Kale (of all people), a Grand Mechanic (who has a past with Morgan and perhaps Goleta), Wild Men (who are wizards), all sorts of Earth tech and culture that has bled into Weird World, a random Watcher, and Morgan’s attempts to heal her sick best friend. That’s added to the quest Goleta, Becca, and Ogeode (resurrected in a flying cat body) are on, the importance of the Wuxian Seed (which is an Infinity Stone with — oh, yeah, forgot to mention — a dragon trapped inside), Becca’s desire to leave Weirdworld, and Goleta’s obsession with killing wizards. I have a feeling I’m missing something by not having read the Secret Wars version of Weirdworld — it too featured a war between Morgan le Fay and Kale’s Man-Thing army, and Skull shows up in both — but the text itself doesn’t give any indication of whether that’s the case.

Humphries seems to have had a long-term plan for Weirdworld, but now that that plan will never see the light at Marvel, it makes Lost Things look incohesive. Humphries is now a DC-exclusive writer, so it’s unlikely the book’s loose threads will be picked up in another title, like Skull the Slayer was finished in Marvel Two-in-One or Nova was finished in Fantastic Four. So despite it being the most intriguing part of Lost Things, it’s unlikely we’ll see the implications of Ogeode declaring Becca a wizard at the end of the book. (Is that a thing wizards can do — just declare other people wizards? Maybe only under certain circumstances? I would have figured being a wizard requires study or a special aptitude, but what do I know?) Having Becca learn about her sorcerous potential earlier might have made her (and the book) more compelling.

I found the amount of Earth culture that had bled into Weirdworld to be a distraction rather than enhancing the setting. Goleta, for instance, drives a turbo-charged muscle car, albeit one powered by emerald fuel injectors. She has stickers on her mirrors that say “Keep Calm and Kill Wizards” and “N.W.A.” (“No Wizards Alive,” in this case). Goleta fists bumps Becca in approval, seeming to know the gesture without Becca’s help. Kale’s army has airplanes, although they don’t seem to be using them for anything. Perhaps most distractingly, Goleta uses a Tribe Called Quest lyric as her battle cry at one point. How would Goleta have heard of A Tribe Called Quest? Humphries might have been trying to add a disconcerting touch of dissonance to the story with these modern details, but instead, they removed me from the story.

“Weird” and “disconcerting” are adjectives that cover Lost Thing’s color scheme: pinks and purples and yellows and greens. Frankly, given the retina-searing hues of Weirdworld, I feared for Becca’s eyes. Why did del Mundo and co-colorist Marco d’Alfonso choose these colors? Is it to give the impression that Weirdworld is different? That it’s injured, out-of-phase, wrong? Or is it just to link the book somehow to Spider-Gwen?

I can’t decide what to think about del Mundo’s art. He exhibits a great deal of imagination in his designs, although he does seem to rely on horns, spikes, and other projections to spice up his character designs. His character work is very good, especially when the characters are experiencing grief; del Mundo makes the already affecting scenes between Becca and her mother even stronger. However, his fight scenes are frequently unclear or underwhelming; I imagine the garish colors and the watercolor-like effect they frequently impart limits the amount of detail he can communicate. Goleta and Becca’s battle with sand sharks and the war scenes are unimpressive, given what they could have been.

To Weirdworld’s credit, it’s rare to have an adventure or fantasy book in which all the important humanoid characters — even its Watcher — are female. All of those lead characters have unique designs, and none of them — not even Morgan le Fay, the evil queen — relies on sex appeal in any way. For many readers, this may be enough to make Weirdworld a success; for almost every comics reader, this might be the weirdest part of Weirdworld. I’m a little surprised that Humphries chose to cast Goleta, the strong, large warrior woman, as a lesbian (or bisexual); it seems a bit stereotypical. On the other hand, if he wanted sexual diversity among the cast, Goleta or Becca were his best choices, since they were leads.

Lost Things had potential, and for those readers who enjoy books that have potential but may not reach it, this book is worth reading. I found the book’s lack of focus and inability to connect on anything but Becca’s grief too disappointing, though.

Rating: Marvel symbol Half Marvel symbol

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