Overview

Wraithborn #6

Review

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Wraithborn #6

Credits

  • Words: Marcia Chen
  • Art: Joe Benitez
  • Inks: Victor Llamas, Joe Weems, Livesay, Peter Guzman, Matt Banning
  • Colors: Studio F
  • Story Title: In the Beginning, Chapter 6
  • Publisher: DC Comics/WildStorm
  • Price: $3.99
  • Release Date: Jun 1, 2006

The stage is set. The players are in position. The final act is about to begin. But in the ending of this series, there will be a beginning…of a new hero.

Throughout this series the supernatural force known as Wraithborn has been like the Maltese Falcon—everyone wants it and will do just about anything to get it. Brijit, a loa who holds the power over life and death, needs The Wraithborn to be released from her mortal body and fully realize her magical power. She has legions of demons and hellspawn conjured to do her bidding. Kiara, a mortal warrior whose great, great granduncle was one Wraithborn, wants it for herself as well. Caught up in all this is Melanie, a high-schooler who happened to be in the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time to receive The Wraithborn from its previous host. But she isn’t ready, and Kiara’s brother Valin, who should’ve become the new Wraithborn instead of Melanie, is there to protect her from the evil forces who would take the power for themselves. It all comes down to this final issue, where Melanie has been captured, and Brijit is so close to her goal. Even if Melanie survives, will she have what it takes to play the hand that fate has dealt her?

For two reasons—the first good, the second bad—the first five issues of this six issue series take twice as long to read as they should. That’s because creators Marcia Chen and Joe Benitez cram a whole series’ worth of mythology into those 110 pages while also trying to tell a story that’s anything but decompressed. This approach works because the mythology itself is appealing in its complexity. There are conflicting agendas galore, and very little is what it appears to be. But while the heavy doses of exposition worked well when deepening and broadening the mythology, themes, and conflicts of the series, when it comes to characterization this approach put a real drag on the narrative. Marica Chen’s script work has been plagued by overwriting, rambling monologues, and those dreaded thought balloons. It’s not necessary at all, as the main character Melanie and the supporting cast around her are all quite strong in themselves, their voices as distinct as their motivations. Indeed, they would have been as well served with subtle character strokes, more "cinematic" dialogue, and far more showing than telling. Instead Chen opts for the heavier hand. Thankfully, she and co-creator Joe Benitez have plotted this series with punches and surprises on virtually every beat—despite the tons of text—and by the time this last issue opens, all the dominoes have been set up, and all Chen’s script has to do is knock them down, which it does in a way that makes me much more optimistic about future Wraithborn stories.

The writing in this issue finally comes together, the text paced much better with the action. The action is fast and furious, and the mythology of the series develops naturally as the story reaches its crescendo. In terms of character development, there were some interesting and at times curious choices along the way, particularly that of foregrounding Melanie so much and leaving the warrior within her far in the background. This final chapter nicely justifies Chen and Benitiez’s choices. Melanie is neither a Chosen One, nor has she been preparing for her new role. Rather, she’s just an average girl who has no idea of the power she wields and even less understanding of her central place in this new world. Thus, there’s more dramatic impact when she finally steps up and performs heroically. There’s also been plenty of room for her supporting cast to play their roles and define themselves. Melanie’s friend Zoe comes into her own as a medium when she learns the truth of how her friend became The Wraithborn, Brijit throws every demonic thing she’s got at our heroes, and Valin, Melanie’s protector, performs as a true warrior just as worthy of the Wraithborn mantle. But most compelling is Valin’s sister Kiara. Neither good nor evil, her only interest is herself, and to this end she’s played both ends against the middle, finally allying with her brother and Melanie in deed, but opposing them in motivation.

Joe Benitez is a phenomenal artist squarely in the Lee/Silvestri school of comics illustration. He adds his own flavors to the mix, though, namely a smoldering but natural sexiness that is often underplayed in Lee’s work and overplayed in Silvestri’s. His panel compositions are much more dense, as well, a quality that readers will find either confusing or enchanting. Put me in the latter group. Benitez’s art, polished by a legion of inkers and gorgeously colored by Studio F, is breathtaking, hypnotic, and seductive. This issue runs 32 pages, and with more breathing room Benitez brings every aspect of his A-game. Every dizzyingly detailed panel pushes the narrative forward, every character shot defines its subject a little more, and the action is as kinetic as if it were on film. But what works best is the look that Benitez has given this series, the world he’s created on the page an intersection of the supernatural and the gothic with an adventure story vibe; his characters clad in fetish wear and knights’ armor with blades everywhere; his monsters frightening human/demon bastards; his villain a deadly beautiful and other-worldly goddess. We may have seen it all before in myriad comics and films, no one thing original in itself, but Benitez brings it all together in a way that’s fresh and inspired.

Wraithborn is tailor-made for fans of Witchblade, Darkness, and The Magdalena. But however derivative it is, the title stands well on its own and has a lot of potential, and issue #6 is strong enough to keep me interested in how good this title can be.

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