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Charles Soule is a machine. Not figuratively. I mean I think he is a literal machine. The guy is constantly writing comics, such as this one; Curse Words #1. Meanwhile, he is still, I believe, working as an attorney. I’m reasonably certain he has found some way to give up sleeping entirely, which leads me to suspect he might have entered into some kind of bargain with the wizardly protagonist at the center of this brilliant first issue.
The story focuses on the amazingly named Wizord, a powerful sorcerer from another time and place who finds himself in our modern world. The first issue finds him seemingly abandoning whatever mission brought him here in the first place in order to go public as an actual wizard, proving to the people of Earth that magic does in fact, exist. Together with his talking Koala bear Margaret, Wizord quickly becomes a global celebrity; a renowned crusader and benefactor of all humanity. But the events of the issue soon see his past catching up with him, and also make clear that Wizord is far more complicated and dark than he might appear.
Charles Soule has teamed with artist Ryan Browne to craft a simply amazing debut issue. It’s a blackly funny fantasy story, combining elements of antihero stories like “Breaking Bad” or “The Sopranos” with “Doctor Strange” and then adding in blackly hilarious comedy. Of course, Soule and Browne use Wizord’s fish out of water status to skewer lots of modern-day societal trends, notably ideas around fame and social media and instant gratification. In that way, Curse Words #1 is a hoot, but while the tone of the issue definitely is comedic, it doesn’t lessen the impact of the more dramatic and thrilling side of the story.
The shape of the issue, as it moves backwards and forwards through time and between different worlds, makes the narrative zip along with energy and excitement. And it reveals just enough to entice the reader into finding out more. Soule and Browne introduce a lot of elements, but are smart enough to focus the issue on making Wizord compelling. The whole series will succeed or fail based on Wizord, and as character, he doesn’t disappoint. Whereas other first issues might overwhelm the reader with too much world-building, Soule and Browne give just enough info to make Wizord a fascinating figure about whom we may know only the barest sliver, whose good deeds, albeit accompanied by an amoral slant, might not mitigate at all the depths of what he’s capable of. And maybe already guilty of, as well. By making the drive of the narrative about letting us think we understand a little abut Wizord, only to completely twist that by the end, Soule and Browne make Curse Words #1 succeed in both introducing a compelling concept and character, as well as delivering an intriguing main plot to the issue itself.
Browne’s art has to straddle the fine line of depicting a world of sorcery and magic and wizard fights, while still feeling like it takes place in the world we all live in. He manages to make the fantasy action feel epic and exciting while also nailing the banal attributes of our time. While the magic may be exaggerated in scope and scale, the world it takes place in is not. This is probably best reflected in how Browne depicts Wizord’s transformation from a character straight out of old school D&D into a slick hipster who looks like he just stopped in at a Brooklyn Hipster hangout. That merging of style is helped by his vibrant, dynamic work, with clean sharp lines that make the action and the humor pop right off the page. This is aided by great color work by Browne, working with Jordan Boyd and Michael Parkinson.
Of course, a book about a magical antihero isn’t new under the sun, but the sharp satirical edge of the approach, the wit and black comedy of the book, makes Curse Words #1 feel fresh and loaded with enough charm to give it a distinct feel. It’s a book both funny and yet one that doesn’t treat its character as a joke. With a protagonist this intriguing, a concept this well executed, and a sense of humor this enjoyable, Curse Words #1 is bound to be among the most fun and compelling first issues you’ll find. 9.5/10
Curse Words #1 will be released by Image Comics on January 18, 2017.