Wraithborn Redux: Fresh approach to an old story

WraithbornThe problem for story creators and readers is that there is really no new ideas, only new ways to present them. One oft-told tale is the ordinary lad or lass who, through some quirk of fate or chance, comes into possession of a great power and now must become the hero. The classic version of this was young Arthur, hidden away until he could come into his own. George Lucas scored big on the same theme in Star Wars. Joss Whedon gave the story a twist by introducing “the chosen one” cheerleader, Buffy Summers.

In 2005 Marcia Chen (The Magdelena, The Darkness, Lady Mechankia and Ascension) teamed with Joe Benitez (The Magdelena, The Darkness, Lady Mechankia and Ascension) to produce Wraithborn for DC’s WildStorm imprint, where they mined the same territory. The six issue mini-series, though well received it did not generate a monthly title.

Fast-forward to 2016, Joe Benitez now has his own publishing company, Benitz Productions., where he is revising and reprinting some of his classic titles. Earlier this year he brought out Wraithborn Redux, a slightly revised edition of the original run.

Chen and Benitez don’t ignore the clichés, instead the clichés are embraced. A mysterious order of monks keeps a dread power, which can only be passed along to a worthy successor, in this case Valin. But of course, this goes wrong and the power ends up in gawky, socially awkward Melanie Moore. It does get worse, as the evil Voodoo god Brijit wants the power for herself.

In less deft hands, this comic would quickly sink into self-parody, but Chen and Benitez are more skillful. We’ve seen ad nauseam, in movies, television and comics the social outcast hero taking the beating in high school to such a point that it has become a “check the box” on the hero quest.  Here, however, feels more real. In one effecting scene, Melanie is in the locker room while a chubby classmate is being bullied. Melanie, at first is glad that she’s avoiding notice, then is torn between sickness at the abuse and fear about intervening. In the end, she bows her head and does nothing. Later, when she herself is being bullied, the chubby girl offers Melanie consolation, deepening her sense of guilt.

The story moves along briskly, almost nonstop, as Melanie is chased by creatures she barely can understand, and Valin courageously works to protect her. Along the way she’s helped by her friend Zoe, and her grandmother, who are versed in the ways of Voodoo.  Valin, is pretty much a stock figure, while Zoe displays some flashes of originality. Brijit is a standard villain-goddess seeking to gain power so that she can walk the earth again.

Despite all the tropes, the comic works. Benitez’ art and Joe Weems ink strongly remind me of the work of Michael Turner in the early issues of Witchblade. The colors by Studio F and Mike Garcia are a beautiful compliment. Relying on larger panels and splash pages, the art pulls the reader into the story.

It was clear from the framing device, Melanie in the future (or present) battling demons, and flashing back to her origins that Chen and Benitez envisioned this as an ongoing title. Hopefully, with the advent of his own production company, Benitez and Chen will continue Melanie’s story.