This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 17, 2016.
If you’ve read a comic created by Ryan Browne before, then you know to expect a lot of laughs when you see his name on any book. His quick-plotting experiments on books like God Hates Astronauts! and Blast Furnace deliver comedy, action, and pacing that move so quickly it’s impossible to notice any flaws through the deluge of delights. Curse Words #1 represents a new experiment in Browne’s career: creating a comic that subscribes to the standard storytelling model. It’s not something that pays off in the first issue.
Browne is the artist of Curse Words, collaborating with writer Charles Soule, and colorists Jordan Boyd and Shawn Depasquale. Together they’re telling the story of Wizord, an extra-dimensional, magically powered individual who comes to Earth for nefarious reasons and decides to become a celebrity instead. Accompanied by his koala assistant Margaret, he acts as a wizard-for-hire and gives civilians whatever they can afford with only three notable exceptions. There does not appear to be many, if any, limits to Wizord’s magic and the door is open for an endless array of oddities and adventures.
In Curse Words #1 the possibilities aren’t the focus of the story and what magic is conducted isn’t particularly inventive. The first installment is focused on setting up the plot for an ongoing series with mysterious histories and antagonists all waiting in the wings. Wizord’s actual actions are familiar in nature, playing out in a manner not dissimilar from any superhero comic. Fights and anti-social impulses are not unique to this apparently evil man, but resemble those of Tony Stark with a murderous streak. The superficial nature of his appearance is key to his character, but there’s a lack of traits to grasp that make Wizord stand out as being particularly worthy of attention, especially since “mysterious past” is not an actual character trait.
What’s most attention-grabbing are the details surrounding Wizord. While Margaret may not do or say much, her existence is a promise of humor and the reaction of mortals to her start to deliver on just that. Tweets for #TeamMargaret veer into weird territory very quickly, and simultaneously raise the oddities of how one magic man in a mundane world would create some very unique challenges. An opening display in which a musician literally goes platinum provides some irony, but lands without much of a punchline.
The last panel of that musician shows off what makes Curse Words #1 intriguing enough to continue even as it engages in a 16-page recap of Wizord coming to Earth. It’s the depiction of absurdities, like a metal man being bisected. Wizord is a magnet for the strange and Curse Words captures those elements with a perfect blend of cartooning and attention to detail. Pieces of an exploded horse and the anatomy of a burning man aren’t overtly gross; they’re just fascinating enough that you cannot look away. Knowing what magic is capable of and how it’s depicted in this first issue makes it a thrill to imagine what could be accomplished.
That promise is what makes Curse Words #1 read like the setup of a lengthy joke. The tone established by the artwork on the page is humorous. With the exception of a single splash, one that reveals previously unseen depths in Browne’s compositions and style, everything on the page is telling you this ought to be funny. Yet the issue itself is lacking in laughs. The narrative is packed with exposition establishing character, plot, and setting. With the exception of a few minor gags, there are few opportunities to even chuckle. Still, it’s very pleasing to the eyes, enough so that you may want to smile anyways. There’s no promise Curse Words will pay off in future issues, but looking at the pieces in play, you’ll likely want to listen a little while longer.