The Wilds would make a great TV show. Not because it deserves it, but because it feels like a forgotten TNT series that runs in the afternoon.
This hurts, because I love Black Mask Studios. They’re not super prolific, but they cull together genre books with twists and give lesser known artists and writers projects to jumpstart careers (i.e., Matthew Rosenberg with masterpieces like 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank).
The only problem is, getting newer talent means amateurish storytelling and insipid concepts. And The Wilds is unfortunately no exception.
Have you ever read or seen any zombie related content ever? Well, that’s the plot for The Wilds. Every character archetype and cliché you can associate with zombie stories—it’s here, baby. The only difference is that the zombies here have flowers growing on them. So that’s…different, I guess?
So many problems, so little time. Let’s start with the characters. Our lead is Daisy (get it?) and she’s your average badass leader archetype. She’s tough and strong and empathetic and makes all the right decisions and gets out of every problem. Even when she argues with others, she’s right and never shouts too loud. Otherwise, if she was at all mean, we might have trouble liking her, and you can’t have a main character with any problems. Protagonists should be flawless and sans personality so the audience can project themselves onto a blank space.
I’m sure if you asked the author, Vita Ayala, they’d say Daisy is complicated and “damaged” because she has cliché nightmares where loved ones say things like: “Why didn’t you save me?” Do these visions come into play? Is Daisy ever so stricken with guilt that it becomes a problem? Nope.
There’s a host of other characters, like Daisy’s romantic interests, Mac and Heather, but they’re no more than sassy side-characters. Although there are glimpses of conflict between these characters, they’re quickly resolved.
So, stories usually have these things called “inciting incidents,” where the main character is forced out of their normal life into a new world of danger and self-discovery (or destruction). The problem with The Wilds is that the inciting incident doesn’t take place until about the third issue, when a character is kidnapped by the bad guys. Sure, the first issue ends with a guy saying “they’re coming for us,” which hints at the bad guys. But Daisy isn’t actually pushed to fight and/or find out about the threat until about the third issue.
Yet, even when we get past the inciting incident, it leads to incredibly dull scenes taking place in sanitized, drab science labs. Exactly the type of derivative “development” a cheap TNT or Syfy show would pull. This gave me bad Buffy the Vampire season 4 vibes. If a comic has to result to scientists talking in labs and endlessly blathering on about their plans to captured protagonists…it’s in trouble.
Can we spend a moment on how unimpressive the floral zombies are? They never pose a real threat. Even when characters are surrounded, they just hack the zombies with one-shots and lightly job away. There’s even a child character who easily evades them by mildly squeezing into a log.
Of course, the answer for that is: “Hey, man, the real threat isn’t the monsters. It’s the humans, brah.” Yes, that old cliché that wasn’t even inspired back in 28 Days Later and has become the focal, cliché point of zombie stories, is in full effect here. So, The Wilds has several white male, bearded, cis dudes who prattle on about the needs of the few, and how they’re trying to save humanity by killing minorities. The way they’re outed and taken down makes Littlefinger’s demise from Game of Thrones look like Shakespeare.
To make it worse, the protagonists have to verbally spar with these dastardly mustache twirlers to remind the audience that these guys are bad and that they’re actually greedy (in case we couldn’t figure that out). It’s straight preaching to the choir. Watchmen has left us a legacy of terrible DC comic follow-ups and an infinite number of Ozymandias clones that are smugly used with abandon.
Let’s talk about exposition. There’s a ton of it here. No character interaction feels like development, just another opportunity to relay information. But it’s not like this zombie world is any different than the others, so it’s not like we’re even getting intriguing world-building.
To make it worse, every issue opens with voiceover narration to tell us about what happened to humanity when the virus hit. Again, nothing we haven’t already seen before. It’s all cliché jargon we don’t need to know about how the infection swept across the world and how people divided up that we’ve heard a billion times from billions of zombie stories.
If The Wilds had any confidence or restraint, it’d relay world-building information not through info dumps, but by weaving it through the story as it unfolds. Great examples of post-apocalyptic stories that feel bigger because of restraint are Y the Last Man and The Walking Dead. The less we’re told and the more the characters have to explore, the more expansive the story will be.
Unfortunately, the art doesn’t do the story many favors. Perspective is a nightmare. It’s almost like Emily Pearson was using five different perspective grids on each panel. In the same panel, a chair will look like its elevated and we’re looking up at it—while a table looks like its slanted down and we’re high above it, peering down.
Thankfully, the facial work is very solid. Lots of attention and detail was put into the hair and expressions of the cast. But everything else looks like it was scratched out in five minutes on a WACOM tablet.
To make it even more complicated, the colors from Marissa Louise are fantastic. Sunsets are gorgeously illustrated with warm oranges that perfectly reflect “magic hour.” Purples are used to great effect for night scenes. So there are many pages where, if you squint your eyes, they look quite fetching. But if you look at all closely, you’ll recoil with thoughts like: “Wait, is that a palm or the back of a hand?” or “Why is that building pointing up and down on a level plain?” Etc.
What does bad even mean? Well, if you define it as the absence of good, The Wilds is pretty darn bad. Yes, the colors and facial expressions have lots of detail put into them, so props have to be given. But the story, pacing, dialogue, characterization, world-building, and themes are egregiously incompetent and uninspired. The Wilds is an excruciating chore to sit through.