Story: Marcia Chen, Joe Benitez
Art: Joe Benitez and team
Benitez Productions, 2016
PAST MIDNIGHT SEEMS the only way to approach this story again. Beware what you shape in the darkness for what adheres and faces you in the mirror in the morning shimmering on the black panel behind the chrome surface.
The startling part in the beginning of this six-issue Wraithborn Redux story, from 2016, ten years after the first edition of the story, is not when a lithe ninja chick with an ebony sword pounces on demon spirits with bloody havoc as illustrated here in the only picture we get of the Wraithborn character in full gear once she knows what she is doing; killing monsters is pretty standard fare for any young heroine we see running around with a sword these days.
Until we get the point here the invading demon spirits and long-forgotten gods reach this world only by being invited in by some human with a freckly face and big eyes who has no idea what evil looks like until it’s right there.
“Thank you, thank you for rescuing me!”
The heroine replies coolly, “I protect the innocent,” and adds as her swinging sword goes snicker snack, “I have no mercy for the foolish.”
Understand. Off-screen she offs the girl. The same kind of execution is repeated in the last chapter, confirming the deed at the beginning really happened. The monsters have human hosts that have to die, too. This is a key element to the dynamic tension in the story. Those awful people you wish would disappear and leave you alone may indeed get what’s coming to them, or will once the girl hero gets her badge and starts work. Demons be gone.
Actually, she may be as much a demon as the ones she hunts, viewed from the other side of the looking glass. She explains on the first page: “I am their prey … and they are mine.” This is the business of the Wraithborn.
It is not a typical adventure story, nor even a typical origin story. The artwork is fabulously rich, without being bombastic; well no, it does get bombastic, just not over-stylized. Figures look at home in their bodies. Joe Benitez draws beautiful women effortlessly, you can write a novel on the lips of his heroines. Yet the art also moves the story in subtle expressions and relationships.
The text, too, moves subtly, in small bits as in the example above killing the hosts; and brilliantly in Issue 6, when friends read the past from a personal object and replay in slow motion the moment in Issue 1 when our heroine Melanie has the Wraithborn power passed to her in an event she believed later was just a nightmare. Circling and cementing such details is nicely done without pressure.
The most remarkable feature in the Wraithborn story is the Redux part, reissuing the story independently ten years after it first appeared in 2006, originally published by Wildstorm DC Warner Bros. Entertainment Company. Among many changes, two marked differences occur in the 2016 Redux version of Issue 6. First, a dramatic picture of the Wraithborn in battle gear is removed from the end, and the text on the last page is redone to refocus on Melanie and her coming-of-age story that just passed, and give more nuance to her fighting companion Kiara and her future. The Wraithborn conflict is not called a “war” as in the dramatized original; and Kiara is not made into an obsessive foil for later plots.
Second, layout changes reunited the story the way it was supposed to be seen. The corporate version is filled with pages of ads that split the story repeatedly. The interruptions are annoying, and disruptive, particularly in one key spread where the left page shows a monster and a full-curved female, icons of horror and sex intended to be viewed as icons, not just a cheap thrill, clarified on the right page where the fighting hero Valin faces them and thinks on “these constructs” of the goddess Brijit, who needs vessels to “enter the world in her true form.” As a spread, there’s a whole story here that was violated when the parts were stuck back-to-back. This recovered spread alone makes the redux version worthwhile.
Congratulations to the artists who determined to make this story the way they wanted it. The results are ultra-fine. This was the last work for young artist inker Victor Llamas, who died young in California shortly afterward. I believe, were it me, I would be happy to leave behind an artifact like this as a testament to why I came. Wraithborn as ever.