I’ve said before that there are two sides to writer Charles Soule. The one most commonly on display is the one with his ruthless competence that you see in the majority of his superhero work. His writing on those titles can be involving and even quite enjoyable, but genuine surprises and cleverness are usually few and far between. The other side is the freewheeling one where he likes to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks, as seen in his creator-owned space opera/political drama “Letter 44.” I wasn’t sure what side we were going to get with “Curse Words,” though, the presence of “God Hates Astronauts” creator Ryan Browne as the artist indicated the latter. In a shocking twist (that probably won’t surprise you) we get “ruthlessly competent” Soule here with some occasional bits of craziness to spice things up.
The wizard named Wizord came to our world for one reason only: To prepare a spell that would sacrifice it to feed the power of his master Sizzajee. He was all set to do it too. Except that in the weeks it took to prepare the spell he came to understand, appreciate, and even love Earth and its inhabitants. Wizord then decided to reveal himself to the world as a wizard, conveniently leaving out the reasons why he came here in the first place, and offering his services to the world at large. For a price, of course, because a wizard’s gotta eat.
While this nets him a lot of fame, it also attracts the attention of his former master. Sizzajee still wants our world, but he wants to see Wizord dead first. So he starts sending his subordinates after the rogue wizard, with the first one doing double duty as a warning and cannon fodder. The second one, however, is all business as she’s Ruby Stitch, the warrior sorceress who was also Wizord’s lover.
“Curse Words” looks to be all about Wizord’s path to redemption. While the specifics of his life prior to arriving in our world are only hinted at, it’s implied that he’s as bad a wizard as they come. The problem is that while he’s able to make a fresh start of things on Earth he’s still learning the ropes of how to actually be a good person. So there’s a lot of collateral damage along the way -- as the people who are attending a baseball game during his first major battle can attest to.
Soule does a good job of establishing these aspects of his protagonist right from the start, making it very clear what kind of book this is going to be. The problem is that it’s a very familiar narrative arc with nothing to suggest that it’s going to be substantially different than the many other times we’ve seen it executed before elsewhere. It does stand a pretty decent chance of being an entertaining version of this particular plot as Soule displays more cleverness here than I’m used to seeing on his superhero titles. This is best seen when Wizord loses his power and has to find a way to recharge in our world through some genuinely inspired means. Of course, said means are not without consequence, which will undoubtedly tie back into Wizord’s redemptive quest.
I should also point out that Soule is good with laying down the rules for how magic works in this series. In fact, the whole series reads like he does have a plan and knows where he wants to go with it. Normally this would be a great thing in my opinion. The catch is, and I’ll admit that this is probably specific to me, is that I wanted more crazy from this series. I really wanted to see what would happen when you mash together the insanity of “God Hates Astronauts” with “Letter 44.” In the case of “Curse Words,” the result is much like when you multiply two negative numbers together: you don’t get something more negative, you get a positive.
There are plenty of times when you can see the craziness peeking out from around the edges. Like when we see that something is translated from the language “-tique,” the fishes who complain about going in the bad water, an Interpol agent with the name of Jacque Zaque, even Wizord’s own name. I think the book is better with these bits, but they also serve as a constant reminder to me of what I wanted from “Curse Words” as opposed to what I actually got.
Even if the story isn’t as crazy as I wanted, it still allows Browne plenty of room to go nuts as far as the art is concerned. While Browne’s work on “God Hates Astronauts” remains the purest distillation of his style, what’s here is pretty impressive as well. From Wizord’s city-wide fight with the Renaissance fop Cornwall to the airplane-set throwdown with Ruby Stitch, the art never lacks for excitement. The best scene, in my opinion, is the double-page spread of Sizzajee’s ruined realm that closes out the volume. At first glance, it’s a fittingly dark and run-down realm for a magical lord of his caliber. Look at it a bit longer and you’ll realize that you’ve seen this scene before, in a previous double-page spread.
Is everything that happens to Wizord in “Curse Words” all his own fault? Could be, and I’m interested in seeing what happens when he finally makes the connection that we do on those final pages. Taken on its own terms, the series is a solidly constructed fantasy action/adventure story strewn with clever bits and great art. If that sounds like your idea of a good time, then pick up vol. 1 now. If you want something more mental than this, well, the first volumes of “God Hates Astronauts” and “Letter 44” are still available too.