Curse Words, written by Charles Soule (Daredevil, Death of Wolverine) drawn by Ryan Browne (God Hates Astronauts) and colored by the prolific Jordan Boyd, is a biting social satire masquerading as gonzo fantasy. As opposed to Walter White’s story from Breaking Bad, Wizord—the book’s main character—is possibly breaking good. Like the classic wrestling tropes of “Baby Faces” and “Heels” turning from one side to the other, leaving fans wondering if they can fully trust a character, Curse Words plays with our perceptions: Do we like the protagonist because he’s a good guy, or do we assume (perhaps mistakenly) that he’s a good guy because we like him?
Curse Words centers on the story of Wizord, a powerful wizard who suddenly appears in our mundane world and starts selling magic. He’s actually come for wicked reasons, working for the demonic overlord, Sizzajee. Falling in love with all the cool stuff here, he postpones destroying the world and instead starts granting wishes for pay, soon becoming the most popular person on the planet. Wizord’s three rules (“No Cures, No Love, and No Wars”) seem to imply he feels some responsibility for the magic he sells, and the presence of his talking Koala sidekick, Margaret, endears him to everyone. As Wizord’s past spills over into his new life, we learn he may not be what we thought he was.
Wizord struggles with his old life; literally, in the form of antagonists sent to punish him for not completing his mission and metaphorically, questioning earlier misdeeds and whether he can rise above them. Where he came from, wizards are famous and powerful because they’re feared—and he was the worst of a bad bunch. Having never encountered a hero before, the realization that people will like him if he does good things, is compelling. A running theme of the book is whether or not doing good will balance out his previous dark acts.
The best satire holds up a mirror to society; on its surface, it’s a loony, magical yarn, but Curse Words is no exception. From the vapid pop star who pays Wizord to physically turn him platinum, to a sadistic former dictator he’s forced to bargain with early on, the book features caricatures of people we might see on the news. Despite the fact the public should’ve been immediately terrified of his powers, Wizord becomes the most famous and beloved person on earth overnight. No one stops to question whether he merits the adulation. That begins to change when violence erupts in the skies over New York (in a scene that Potterheads will find vaguely reminiscent of the description of Dumbledore’s final duel with Grindelwald), but by then it might be too late.
Soule and Browne are great collaborators and keep up a frantic pace, alternating action, gags, satire and pathos in a well-balanced brew. Soule cuts his imagination loose; dreaming up ever-crazier things for his penciler to draw, and Browne delivers the goods. His heavy, jagged lines define every detail necessary to lure our eyes to what’s key in each panel. Jordan Boyd’s colors pop, complementing the line art beautifully, highlighting the ordinary and the magical, as each requires.
Wizord is here, and seems to be here to stay—sorry earth—though it’s welcome news for readers looking for a great read. Image just dropped the tenth issue, but a trade paperback of the first arc is available and the second collected volume is due in January so you can fully immerse yourself in the world of Curse Words.