The Webcomic Overlook #154: Wayward Sons: Legends
Remember that Tim Burton movie, Alice In Wonderland? You know, the one with a grown-up Alice? The one where Wonderland (or Underland, whatever) got transformed into some sort of Tolkienesque fantasy world? The one where Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter did that stupid dance at the end? Of course you remember it, even if only barely. It was, after all, the 5th highest grossing film of all time.
While there are several factors in play here — the price inflation of 3-D movies being one of them — I think audiences just like new spins on old familiar stories. There’s a reason why there’s a new Little Red Riding Hood movie coming out this year where the wolf is of the were-variety. Because … why the hell not? And, as stupidly “internet random” as it was, there’s a reason why readers embraced Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. It’s fun to mix things you associate with your younger years (classic lit and fairy tales) and mix it with stuff you enjoy today (stupid action movies). It’s the right mix of ironic cheesiness and unironic glee.
Writer Benny Powell (along with penciller Weilin Yang, finisher Youjin Yang, and colorist Kun Song) attempts the very same thing in Wayward Sons: Legends, and …. Wait, is that really the title? Wayward Sons? Oh no. Can’t get tune out of my head. This is bad….
Must… resist… Kansas references….
Phew, that’s over. Anyway, the comic starts off as a sci-fi type story, but eventually it transforms into another fractured fairy tale of the world’s most ancient legends. Which ones, you ask? Well, if you carry on to my review of Wayward Sons, maybe you’ll find peace when you are done.
We open Wayward Sons: Legends with Grand Moff Tarkin putting Heihachi from Tekken in space prison. Visually, it’s hard to tell it first which of the two is the good guy, or if either of them are good guys at all. It turns out that Tarkin is on the hero side, and his name is actually Suras. The Tekken guy’s real name Kronos, is in jail for war crimes.
It turns out that, cliche of all cliche, the two were friends once upon a time. Kronos, was once a military leader with a soaring reputation… but as he was soaring ever higher, he flew too high. He had controversially wanted to use some superweapon against a hidden alien threat called the
Reapers Ghaul. This touched off a huge civil war, where Kronos and Suras were on opposite sides. Finally, Suras defeated Kronos by exploiting his one weakness: that he’s easily bamboozled.
Nowadays, Suras runs the crew of the Ulympea, reputedly the best of the best in the galaxy. There’s Lt. Commander Hurk, the security officer; Lt. Commander Ethaynia, the tactical officer; Lt. Hermaz, the communications officers; and the rest.
Hold on. Ethaynia? Hermaz? Hurk? Ulympea? These names are starting to sound an awful lot like….
But back to our story. Apparently, our heroes don’t have any action movies in space, because our brilliant space leader Suras is all, “Well, time to leave the space prison. Turning our backs to it. Nothing can possibly go wrong. Yessirree, everything’s going to be fine and dandy.”
Then there’s a prison break and the bad guys take over the ship. Man, who coulda seen that coming?
The good guys finally catch on and give chase. Before you can say “I think I liked this better when it was called Transformers,” our heroic crew crash lands their spaceship into the side of a mountain on a primitive planet known as … Earth.
An accident during the entire incident has given our crew superheroic — some might say godlike — powers. Like, Hurk is suddenly superstrong. Suras can suddenly summon lightning from the sky. Cassandra can suddenly go naked. Actually, it’s more that she can predict the future. The nudity is a side effect from the increased heat output her body suddenly takes. It’s a repeating theme, by the way.
Our heroes bump into some locals. They see these newcomers with the weird outfits and the superhero powers and come to the only rational conclusion: that Homer has been putting some powerful additives in his wine lately. No, wait… actually, they assume that our heroes are gods! And that if you twist your tongue something wickedlike — maybe spread a ton of peanut butter on it, or soak it in some rubbing alcohol — “Suras” kinda sounds like “Zeus”! Our crew is not entirely comfortable masquerading as men with a reason, but their charade is the event of the season. No matter how much the crew insists they are not gods, everything they do just convinces the locals even more. Can you blame them when our heroes are wielding magic swords and carving Mount Olympus from mountainsides?
Meanwhile, the baddies have landed somewhere across the sea in Ancient Egypt, where the ship is conveniently buried in the sand up to its pyramid-shaped comm tower. While the crew of the Ulympea were mostly humans, the crew of the prison ship Tytan are mainly anthropomophic aliens, as if they’d escaped The Planet of Dr. Moreau. While I understand there’s a precedent for this — the Wing Commander series and the C. J. Cherryh are brimming with kitty aliens — there’s something about animal-headed monsters that doesn’t scream “I am a visitor for outer space.” I guess it’s a blessing for the ancient Egyptians, though: animal-headed beings are probably a lot easier to render in hieroglyphics than some H.R Geiger nightmare.
And now Kronos is free to live a life of mayhem and villainy. He wants to return to the stars, but first he has a new purpose in life: to
sap Earth of its energon cubes take over the WORLD!
The stories are centered around the “real story” behind world myths and the sci-fi explanations behind them all. It’s Arthur C. Clarke’s “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” law taken to its cartooniest extremes. Yes, it is totally goofy. Remember one of those labors of Hercules where he has to fight the Nemean lion? It turns out the fight is something of a one-on-one MMA match-up. Our lion is actually an alien being the planet Nemea, which means that stuffy archaeological site totally whiffed on the origins.
Through it all, we get a sort of Grand Unified Theory of All Mythologies, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Xena, The Warrior Princess, muscled her way into Greek, Jewish, and Zoroastrian traditions. You may have caught on that Hurk is Hercules. At one point, though, he’s also given a technological boomerang hammer, which I think is supposed to mean he’s also Thor. At the same time, Saiden (a.k.a. Poseidon) is also Santa. Wait… why is the Greek god most associated with oceans suddenly flying around in a sleigh and delivering presents? Probably because he’s the only one in the crew with a beard.
If this sounds really cheesy … it is. The pacing is particularly goofy. There’s one scene where Hurk gets it on with a sexy queen which I think is supposed to be dreamy and romantic but comes off as abrupt. And to make it even more abrupt, it’s followed by a profile page of Lt. Hurk with a hangdog expression. And I actually laughed.
There’s another unintentionally cheesy moment when Haydez (I know it’s supposed to be “Hades,” but darned if I my brain doesn’t twist that into “Hardee’s” every time I look at it) finds out that he’s unable to bear a child with his wife. (This fortunately doesn’t become oppressively maudlin like some other comics.) He walks out by himself and does his best Darth Vader imitation. I’m sorry, this is 2011. After Revenge of the Sith, a full-throated “NOOOOOO!!!!!!!” will never be taken seriously.
Wayward Sons has got such a ridiculous 80’s cartoon show vibe that you can imagine Chris Latta and Jim Cummings doing all the voicework. The attitudes are all overly optimistic, and the characters are aggressively one-dimensional. The plotlines are so head-bangingly illogical that there’s almost a childlike innocence to them. The hair. Even the artwork screams “DIC Entertainment.” This sorta works to the detriment of the comic: gruesome, violent scenes just seem so out of place in this comic, so when they do happen I found myself resisting the urge to go, “Hey, now!”
How much like an 80’s cartoon is this comic, you ask? When one character says: “How in the hell did your boyfriend just do that?” the response will inevitably be something like “He is not my boyfriend.” That’s right, this is the sort of comic where anyone mentions the words “girlfriend” or “boyfriend”, the character is going to huffily deny it. But, heck, this is also the same comic where the supposedly hardened military ladies break out in pillow fights and preen like characters from Beverly Hills Teens.
And, oh, that dialogue. Wayward Sons is the sort of comic that will treat us to this heartfelt exchange, which was cruelly overlooked for the Most Dramatic Moment category in the Webcomic List Awards:
“They killed my husband and children!”
“How could you?”
“Because I see that same haunted expression every time I look in the mirror!”
You know what really sells this beautiful, emotional moment? The way it’s punctuated like everyone’s angrily yelling their lines out.
There’s also this gem:
“OK, ya little bastard, let’s see if you can stand the HEAT!”
“That’s uncalled for! Both of my parents were married! Just not to each other.”
Oh God. That’s got to be the lamest “witty” one-liner/comeback exchange I have ever seen in my life. David Caruso would’ve managed it better, and treated us to a sexy sunglasses on/sunglasses off sequence to boot. I’m not even getting into the “hilarious” pop culture references to Star Trek, Star Wars and Highlander, which, as you can imagine, are so, so very awful and out of place.
Now, I’ll give credit where credit’s due: one of the good things about Waywards Sons is that the artwork is actually pretty nice to look at. It’s the sort of thing you’d find in DC Comics in the early ’90s, when Tom Grummett, Dan Jurgens, and Jerry Ordway were drawing, like, 50% of the comics there. It’s conventional and conservative. There are some limitations with depicting emotional subtlety: everyone seems to be either grimacing, yelling, or uproariously laughing. At the same time, it’s also solid, eyecatching, an clean. The characters are of various shapes and sizes, and you get a nice sense of mass about them. For instance, Hermaz’s wiry, long-limbed design feels light and flighty, while Hurk’s thick arms and barrel chest feels heavier yet no less athletic. Watching them in action is like watching action figures come to life (in a good way!)
I won’t lie to you, I don’t think this comic was good by most traditional measures of quality. However, I was entertained, even if it was for the wrong reasons. It’s a fine line between laughing with something and laughing at something. And Wayward Sons is definitely a “laugh at” scenario. That’s not a bad thing in my case. I am, after all, a huge fan of MST3K (the show whose references to “El Santo” inspired me to adopt online handle). I’m even a regular watcher — and proud supporter! — of the dreadfully awful NBC show The Cape, which features dialogue even worse than Wayward Sons. (Example of one of the show’s excellent lines: “How do you like your eggs?” “Fertilized.” Classic.) Wayward Sons channels into the same stupid campiness. Every time I think that there’s no way the comic can get any stupider, it manages to top and shatter all expectations. I can respect that.
And, well, trying to figure out which character is supposed to be which mythological figure? I gotta admit, it is kinda fun.
So how to rate it? I can’t give it a good rating, since the comic never really gripped me to the point that I ever want to pick it up again. I can’t give it a bad rating, since I can’t say that I wasn’t amused by it. Sadly, I’ll have to go down the middle: the dreaded 3 stars. The greatest regret among most reviewers is that the three-star rating is actually the worst you can possible give: it implies that you don’t care either way. I guess it’s only fair to conclude this review by saying that this won’t be the case: you’ll either be put off by how corny everything is, or you’ll somehow manage to roll with all the cheesiness.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to lay my weary head to rest.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Dontcha cry no more….
Da da-da daaaa… da da-da daaaaaa…. deedly deedly doo dooo … doo dooooooo….