Pullbox Reviews: Woodland Creatures: Wild Souls Ushers in A New Kind of Werewolf!

Writer/Creator:  Cristina Roswell

Scriptwriter:  Fali Ruiz-Davila

Artist:  Tomas Aira

Letterer:  Gonzalo Duarte

Assistant Editor:  Paul Baumeister (the Pullbox’s own!)

Publisher:  Creator Owned & Published

Available:  Soon to be published via Kickstarter!

“Man is a wolf to man.”

Out in the next couple weeks for those who were savvy enough to back it on Kickstarter is the first volume (of three) of Woodland Creatures, by Cristina Roswell.  With scripting by Fali Ruiz-Davila, art by Tomas Aira and lettering by Gonzalo Duarte (and assistant edited by none other than our very own Paul Baumeister!), Wild Souls is a new kind of werewolf tale: presented from the perspective of the lycans themselves, we’re engaged with an Alaskan Inuit spin on the mythology, rather than the standard European take.

So what does that mean, and why do we care?

Well, it makes for a much more interesting psychology.  Roswell’s interpretation of the lycanthrope sets them up as primally-driven alpha predators like their European counterparts, but with a strong bond with the land and its fauna itself.  Rather than being a mutation or monstrous evolution, they are of the land, a natural creature, one living in the dual worlds of man and beast.  This connection with the earth is exemplified through the lycan’s soul-bond with their amaroq, a sort of dire wolf equivalent with whom each werewolf permanently imprints and whom the lycan can psychically direct (at the sacrifice of their own consciousness).  In addition to some interesting character dynamics, this creates a different consciousness for the lycans: rather than simple monsters or even pack-based ravagers, they are more like (still pack-based) rangers/environmentalists.  You know, with really sharp teeth.

And an occasional taste for the wayward human.

Which brings us to our tale.  At the micro level, it’s the struggle for PTSD-affected ex-lycan-corps lieutenant Chris Szilagyi’s attempt to control and integrate his increasingly sociopathic girlfriend Calliope “Callie” Conway, a younger lycan who’s much more aligned with her predator side and lives with not a shred of empathy for the humans she prowls among.  But there’s a macro level as well, and one that may soon prove both of their undoing: they’re in New York as our tale begins, Chris having been summoned by his ex-Army superior, Colonel Harris, to the United Nations for a summit on the increasingly frequent lycan assaults on humanity worldwide, a world as yet largely unaware of the existence of lycanthropes.

An ambitious setup, and Wild Souls for the large part delivers in its role as introduction to both Roswell’s mythology and story, and leaves the reader anticipating the next installment.

Given this is Roswell’s first stab at writing a comic, that it’s an adaptation of her own novel and that the material has been translated to English from Spanish, it’s a fairly significant accomplishment.  The dialogue flows comfortably, and the various characters have distinct and consistent patterns and styles of speech—something that tends to be a difficult task for translated material.  The story is compelling: do we find ourselves siding with the harder-core lycan set, represented by Callie—those who want to give in to their primal nature and regard humanity as lunch; or their reverse, represented by Harris—the humans who want strict and harsh control of werewolves, employing them as tools and weapons; or, do we side with Chris and his sort—the lycans who have learned to resist their animal nature when need be and live unknown amongst men?  It’s an intriguing question.

If I have one complaint about Roswell’s writing in Wild Souls, it’s that—in direct contrast to most young writers, who over-explain and over-expose their subject—I was left wanting more.  Having read the portion of her novel addressed by this volume of the comic, I was aware of what didn’t make it into the graphic, and in a couple instances, the loss was significant.  I’d like to see more of Callie and Chris’ pasts, both as individuals and as a couple—even a couple panels or a montage or two.  Same with Harris’ evil past, which is hinted strongly at but not seen.  Could be I’m overthinking it (or that she’ll address it in future volumes), but with ideas as big as Roswell presents here, and such a seriously cool take on the lycan mythos, I’d actually like to have had a little more flesh on the bone to gnaw on.

Based on conversations I know Paul’s had with Ms. Roswell, I expect such pacing and material choice will be an area of growth as we move into volumes two and three.

Which brings us to the art.  Aira’s line is strong throughout the book—a little reminiscent of 1980’s John Byrne, to my eye.  Ranging from serviceable to striking, his work’s at its best when he plays with the structure of the panel and page, and employs shadow to strong effect.  The couple of montage pages stand out in particular to me, as do the first ten pages or so as we observe Callie…hunting her prey.  And the two cover options he’s produced are outstanding.  Aira has a difficult challenge in this book: without the benefit of color to create high and low points, it can be difficult to differentiate setting and characters in scenes where there isn’t a great deal of action but a lot of players, and few strong light/shadow sources to play with, such as the UN meeting. As a whole, however, he navigates the challenge well.

In terms of lettering, Duarte’s work is strong.  There’s a good amount of dialogue throughout as we’re treated a first-person point of view (with a brief amount of access to Callie’s thoughts here and there) with a good deal of information and communication to impart; Roswell’s got an entire mythology to explain, as well as a three-issue story to set up.  Despite such volume, I never felt the lettering intruded upon a scene; rather, some of the play with where word bubbles showed up and trailed throughout a scene made for interesting structure to the art.

So here we are:  a very strong freshman debut, with some enticing promise for the ongoing tale.  I will definitely be looking forward to backing volume two, slated for this summer, and can’t wait to receive my print copy of issue one in the next few weeks!

If you’re interested in picking up a copy of Woodland Creatures: Wild Souls and you missed out on the Kickstarter, Cristina Roswell will be selling copies here.  Hit her up for an issue or two (I personally really struggled to choose between the two cover options), and expand your lycan horizons. 

And if you’re ever blessed enough to meet Pullbox’s Paul Baumeister in person, be sure to have him sign your copy–he’ll be thrilled to do it!

Score: 11.5 (of 13)

Review by Andy Patch, thePullbox.com

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