Image Comics’ Curse Words Combines the Magical and the Mundane in the Best New Ongoing of 2017

A powerful wizard from another time and place appears on Earth and, not knowing what to do, opens shop with a magic for higher business along with his trusty koala companion, Margaret. The colors are bright. The dialogue is clever. The bad guys are eccentric and mysterious. This is Curse Words, the latest anti-hero ongoing series from Image Comics. Penned by Marvel veteran Charles Soule (Daredevil, Star Wars, Swamp Thing, and more) with vibrant, impressive artwork from Jordan Boyd and Ryan Browne, we’ve got a legitimate contender on Image when it comes to superhero books. With a trade paperback collection coming July 19, 2017, we’ve decided to take a look back at the first issue, released on January 18, 2017, which set the town for this exciting and hilarious new series. Using a mix of bright, colorful artwork, just the right amount balance of cynicism and hopefulness, and plenty of ironic humor, this is a book and a series that is absolutely worth the time of any superhero, fantasy, or graphic novel fan.

What’s it about, anyway?

Curse Words issue #1 opens with an obnoxious pop star, Johnny One, appearing at the office of our protagonist, Wizord. Dressed in contemporary urban hipster gear, Wizord looks like any normal guy going about his business, except for his strange name and his long, gray beard. Oh, add to that that his assistant is an adorable talking koala named Margaret. Wizord is offering wizard-for-hire services out of his office. Johnny, the cocky superstar in the vein of Justin Bieber, is looking to step his game up to the next level and stave off the haters and wannabe’s. That’s why he’s hiring Wizord to literally turn him into living metal so that he can become Johnny Platinum. Of course, there are unintended results to this, as Johnny immediately realizes that he can’t feel anything; it’s as if his foot is asleep, except that it’s his entire body. “What the hell did you expect,” Wizord quips, “You’re metal.”

This opening scene completely sets the tone for the humor and social commentary that pops up throughout the brief but incredibly successful run of Curse Words. Wizord is a stranger in a strange world. He has no understanding whatsoever of the human condition. Folks who walk into his office and request such superficial things make no sense to him whatsoever. It’s through that lens, the trope of a very powerful alien who can’t figure out just what it is that people are all about, that the narrative unfolds. Classics ranging from ET to Jurassic Park to Short Circuit and countless others have explored this concept. The story of Wizord and Margaret works as well as any, if not better, as a prism that we can look through and reflect on ourselves. Of course, the book never takes this too seriously, and the balance of humor is just right. As you read, you’ll chuckle at the various everyday situations that Wizord finds himself in.

But wait, there’s lore!

Meanwhile, dark forces from wherever it is that Wizord and Margaret came from are still at work. Shortly after transforming Johnny One into Johnny Platinum, there is an explosion and, perhaps, some sort of interdimensional rift. What appears is nothing short of ridiculous. A purple-clad court jester, floating in the air and carrying a phallic staff with a spear on the end shows up, greeting Wizord as if they’ve known each other for quite some time. It is Cornwall, speaking a language identified as the “Langue Mystique”

We learn that Cornwall was concealed by Wizord (although it’s not clear where or how) and that he was able to track him down because of the powerful spell that he cast on Johnny Platinum. It’s clear that Wizord is being hunted by this weirdo, but why?

Reacting to the fact that Cornwall had, in the past, killed Wizord’s horse, Wizord springs into action, attacking his foe with a magical spear.

A fitting epilogue for a very strange series. From there, we flash back to Wizord’s arrival in New York City. The idea of an alien in a strange place really starts to take hold here. Upon showing up in Central Park with a rat companion, Wizord is approached by New York’s finest. They admonish him, but he doesn’t speak the language. They think he’s simply a homeless man who is lost and confused. Their dialogue, to Wizord, is mere gibberish, though. Feeling threatened, he uses his magic to transform the police into statues, then rides off on his horse.

Wizord then begins his preparations for something, going shopping for magnesium at a drug store. There, he becomes further confused by the consumer-oriented behavior of the shoppers. His rat advises him that he needs to stop acting so outwardly frustrated, suggesting a spell of understanding instead of more malicious actions.

After casting the spell of understanding, which translates Earth language into something that Wizord can understand, he quickly becomes frustrated by the idea that nobody is afraid of him. His power here means nothing – in fact, people simply go about their daily business, mostly ignoring him. It’s an interesting commentary on how easy it is for an individual to be lost and forgotten in our society. Imagine being an all-powerful wizard from another world and then suddenly being among common people who take your appearance to be just another disheveled eccentric. That’s where Wizord finds himself.

Wizord and the rat spend the next few days working on some type of potion. Eventually, he gets hungry, and walks to a hot dog cart outside of the building that he stays in. He asks the vendor how people can be so idle all the time. Don’t they have masters? When the vendor explains that people aren’t slaves and asks Wizord where he comes from, Wizord thinks back; our first glimpse of his home world. Of course, he is overseeing the work of a huge group of slaves, manually laboring the day away. Wizord doesn’t understand; are the idle people who are simply relaxing nobles? No, the vendor explains, they are simply free. Wizord gives a far-away look. He is completely baffled.

The brilliance of Wizord’s building confusion and questions about what his intentions are will keep you hooked as you work through this first (and all subsequent) issues. There is something thrilling about being able to escape into the shoes of somebody from another place and to be able to see how others see the way we live, even if it is a potentially dangerous and insane wizard from who knows where.

Wizord and his rat continue to prepare the potion, adding fish (their final words before being plopped into a boiling cauldron, translated, hilariously, from the “Langue Fishtique”) and continuing to explore his curiosity about humanity and the city of New York. He asks his rat to show him more of this strange place. He witnesses people standing around and looking at military aircraft. He takes in a couple casually making out on a subway train (while eating a Nathan’s hot dog). He marvels at the fact that a couple could lay out on a beach towel on a sunny day, accomplishing nothing.

Finally, “The Last Day” arrives. A shirtless Wizord, standing atop his tower and surrounded by a cloud of ominous purple smoke, declares that in the name of his lord and master Sizzajee (who or what is Sizajee?) that this world will be… Nothing. He is interrupted by the thought of him laying out on that beach towel on a sunny day with a woman who is strangely familiar to him, doing nothing. The rat questions why he didn’t complete the spell, and here it is revealed that the rat is Margaret, the same assistant who appeared earlier as a koala.

Margaret notes that Sizzajee is going to be highly upset that Wizord hasn’t cast the spell and that big trouble was coming. Wizord doesn’t care. “Let it come,” he defiantly declares. We’ve got our big bad in the series – it’s Sizzajee – although we don’t know a single thing about whom or what Sizzajee is.

Wizord, now somewhat enchanted by humankind, sports an I ❤ NY t shirt and goes back to Central Park where he had frozen the two police officers in statue form. Wizord then reanimates the statues, explaining that he has the power to do good in the world. Of course, onlookers didn’t believe him, but they were stunned by his display of real-life magic. Wizord has officially made himself a hero to humanity – a race that he apparently had been sent to destroy.

Wizord, newly human-acting, gets a haircut and gets fitted for a new suit. Margaret decides that she, too, wants to be marketable, showing Wizord a photo of a cute koala. The duo picks out a bad ass motorcycle and rent a penthouse office space as the local media reports on the emergence of this new hero for hire. Margaret becomes a trending topic on social media and Wizord travels the country, meets with the United Nations, and begins running his wizard business.

Finally, the scene switches back to the fight between Wizord and Cornwall. Cornwall tells Wizord that Sizzajee is not happy that he didn’t complete his mission. The backstory is further built up as he teases him that a female, perhaps a romantic interest, was also not happy with Wizord’s failure. The fight becomes a stereotypical superhero fight, spilling into Yankee Stadium, where Wizord finishes off Cornwall in the middle of a baseball game in front of tens of thousands of people. We learn that Wizord and Cornwall both worked for Sizzajee. Wizord declares that he will no longer be anybody’s slave. His brief exposure to freedom has completely changed his attitude about everything.

Meanwhile, there is a cut to a place called “The Hole World,” where the mysterious Sizzajee selects another one of his minions to come to Earth and take on Wizord. We also meet his Hole World love interest, Ruby Stitch, who requests to go and seek out Wizord herself. Wizord, confused and perhaps overreacting, shrinks the entire baseball stadium into a size that fits in the palm of his hand, as the Wizord declares that he’s here to help.

Since the launch of its “Creators” program, Image Comics has published a ton of new books. I’ve read a lot of issue #1’s over the last year, and while some of them were interesting, it was obvious that most were attempts to cash in and get optioned for television and movies. Creators saw the writing on the wall with books like The Walking Dead, Preacher, and more being optioned and becoming huge hits. Image did, too, and this led to an unbelievable flooding of the market with new, mostly bland titles. Curse Words feels different. It’s a book that is thoughtfully written with art, colors, and ink that all serve a purpose. The dialogue creates an aura of confusion, the colors evoke mystery and magic, and the art style is just gritty enough to capture Wizord’s strange new home of New York, but clean enough be visually impressive.

The last word…

Is it a superhero book? Sure. Is it a fantasy story? Absolutely. It’s also a comedy, a tragedy, and a socially-relevant work that takes a hard, critical look at both the good and bad in humanity. While it may be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none, that’s OK. It’s not just some random hodgepodge of words and photos in an attempt to be anything all at once. Instead, there is a perfect balance between seriousness and humor, light and dark, violence and introspection.

If you’re sick of the Marvel and DC reboots and re-imaginings of all of your favorite heroes, the here is a jumping-on point for something fresh. If you, like me, can’t stand the idea of having two Spider Mans, or the fact that Iron Man wasn’t Tony Stark for a little bit, or that multiple years of DC material was magically declared irrelevant with the launch of Rebirth, then maybe you should check out Curse Words.

For a couple of years now, mainstream comics have lost the magic that drew me to them as a kid in the first place. They began feeling like a chore to read. With such disappointments, it was an absolute pleasure to discover this incredible new ongoing series. You can tell that there is a ton of lore being fleshed out for this book. There will be colorful villains who all share a common interest and enemy and a powerful but imperfect hero. There are incredibly endearing side characters such as Margaret. The complexity of the characters is simply and elegantly written into the story, adding to it instead of taking away.

As far as new properties that have launched in 2017, I can’t recommend Curse Words enough. Soule’s history in the world of comics shows, as this is a carefully written and cleverly executed new series that is worth picking up. As I mentioned before, the trade paperback launches this July. If you’re the kind of reader who waits for trades, then this will be a great summer read. If you are an issue-by-issue collector, then now is the time to gobble up those back issues while they’re still cheap. I’d suggest a monthly subscription to this one if you don’t have a local comic book shop. If you do, make sure it’s on your pull list. You’re going to want to follow the adventures of Wizord and Margaret for years to come.

All images used with permission from Image Comics

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