Curse Words: The Whole Damned Thing
Charles Soule (Author) & Ryan Browne (Illustrator)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a comic that I actually did not read during its initial run as a normal, monthly comic BUT I had been curious and due to my appreciation of the work of Charles Soule, I was intrigued and got a second chance when a Kickstarter for the series popped up – cut to some months later and I received in the mail a joyous bundle of books that included a few novels by Soule, a strange page-a-day comic called Blast Furnace by Ryan Browne and the ginormous hardcover that is this tome I’m reviewing today.
In short, it is the story of a wizard named Wizord from a hellish alternate reality that was sent to Earth to prepare it for annihilation and take-over, only for him to find he quite likes our little blue chunk of the cosmos and decided to settle in and try and make it work. Meanwhile, his erstwhile boss, the demon Sizzajee is righteously pissed-off that his favourite wizard lackey from his innermost circle has defected. Wizord tries to fit into Earth life, ends up revealing himself as a magic-man to humanity and plays at being our saviour/hero while trying to fend off the wizards and such sent by Sizzajee to take him out – all while trying to keep damage to a minimum to us mere mortals.
Oh and his “side-kick” (or partner to be more honest) is a rat who becomes a koala and then much much more over the course of this story and is simply a smart little thing named Margaret. #TeamMargaret
So that’s the gist of it and if that sounds too wild to you, I promise that you have not seen anything yet. There’s alternate realities, a pocket reality, magic, mayhem, murder, body parts, intrigue, sex, lies, politics, a vendetta, romance, mystery and it is insanely, gloriously entertaining.
Sizzajee’s court of characters is a rainbow of nightmarish mystics that can be best described as cringingly wierd and hilarious. But the interplay amongst them and the development of this alternate reality where a single all-powerful magical being is trying to reign supreme and yet there is somehow a rebellion and political in-fighting. All this while Wizord tries to stay ahead of his hunters and his ex-boss while struggling after he realises his magical reservoir is not endless and he has to struggle to keep his head above water – and of course, as his magic wanes, his beard shrinks until it disappears.
The story while primarily written by Soule, is undoubtedly a collaboration even in that sphere with artist Ryan Browne who is most famous for his series God Hates Astronauts which is about as bizarre a comic as I have ever read. The truth is that over the course of this series, I got a massive vibe of that very comic and it even reminded me a bit of a comic I love called Dr. McNinja (which everyone should check out, just saying…).
Basically I think my feeling this way is because unlike his other works on a wide variety of characters, in this instance, Soules’ writing is different. It feels almost like a true collaboration because Ryan is frenetic in what I’ve seen of his story-telling and there is a truly chaotic stream-of-consciousness nature to almost all of it. Blast Furnace was literally a page-a-day project he did where he sat and with ZERO planning (I believe him!) he drew out a page with dialogue to create one insane comic, and the previously mentioned God Hates Astronauts has a similar vibe but one where he is more polished and perhaps took some time to plan out the story. This comic very much has that same feel at every major beat, twist and turning point but I would say handled with a bit more skill and polish which is where Soules’ experienced hand is probably showing. There’s less chaos and more thought and impact to at least certain key parts of the narrative and the twists aren’t just bizarre but you can see the threads and bread crumbs in hindsight.
And it’s all brought to life in a style of art that’s too realistic to be telling the bizarre story it is and yet that’s so bizarre that it shouldn’t be real. It is the hallmark of Ryan Browne and he is definitely a force of nature in some respects. Everyone I know who has been a writer/artist and wants to push the envelope draws strange things and tries to be weird and unexpected and to shake the norm (Japanese manga are replete with this) and yet few are able to do it and not seem like you’re being weird just for the sake of it and are in fact genuinely creative and doing something that leaves a real impression. Every page, especially the magical fights, are drawn wonderfully and things oscillate between looking mundane and drab and colourful and cutesy and violent like a mad spinning top on top of a chart listing options – but Ryan manages to do it in a style that’s simple yet effective.
The only weakness as such comes at the end when the duo are trying to go out with a bang and have a heartfelt moment that ties the narrative together. None of it is bad but somehow it’s less effective than the rest of the series and is perhaps less impactful than intended and was like a big bang that was a mild boom instead and gently faded in the wind.
And that’s the real selling point of this comic in the end: the combination of creators. Love it or loathe it, to me this comic is what comics can be at their best. It is madness, it is creativity, it is fun, it can be thought-provoking, challenging and a bit of a head-scratcher. It tries to push what we can think and make the wheels in your head spin and that is what good story-telling is meant to do and few mediums allow it in the way a comic does in my humble opinion. In its own way, it is way harder to work as a team than to write a story on your own as you saw fit – so when someone does that well, kudos to them.