CB Cebulski’s recent series for Marvel, Loners, is an enjoyable comic that never quite ascends – or tries to ascend – to the heights of its parent title (it’s a spin-off of Brian K Vaughan’s Runaways), although you do feel a connection with the adult characters within and take an interest in their various dilemmas. During this summer, Cebulski released Wonderlust, a beautifully written and illustrated comic about his romantic misadventures as a young adult that, from front to back, felt entirely truthful and honest. This little gem shows his gift at easily crafting believable characters, no matter what gender, ace or nationality. So after Loners’ ex-superheroes tussling with adult life and Wonderlust’s heartfelt teen scrapes, Cebulski moves onto a group of magical girls with his new title, Compass.
Co-written with Akihide Yanagi, Compass goes around dispelling its mythology in a text-heavy first half: in a nutshell, magicians are being hunted down in secret, speeding up all magic’s demise. Ensuring their survival, the final four clans of sorcerers meet for a “Ceremony of Acension” so they can pass their powers on to the girls they “have deemed worthy of their collected abilities”: snippy Mei Shen, fragile Anneli, wise-looking Lola and total sweetheart Aiyana. Embodying the new age of magic, their abilities are realised when, all of a sudden, the ceremony is interrupted by killer robots which, after ten pages of old-fashioned magic speak, is a welcome surprise. Cue fighting and lots of death. Vowing vengeance, the four girls decide to locate the missing members of their clans and take on the mysterious enemy.
Basically, you’ve seen this plot before, and you’ve more than likely seen it done better than it’s handled in Compass but that’s okay, because Cebulski’s take on the age-old “magical girl” genre looks like it could be a lot of fun. The first issue is messy, with Ryusuke Hamamoto’s art occasionally doing too many things at the one time and the powers of the clans described but not exactly clear to the reader. But while hitting every archetype on the way – the four girls are, trust me, straight out of Sailor Moon – Cebulski and Yanagi don’t forget to craft something that’s charming and exciting to readers. And Aiyana, a red-haired Southern belle who thinks that the Japanese currency is dollars and says “whoo-wee, that was pretty intense!” after fragging a giant robot, is instantly loveable. She’s like a mini Sawyer, except she doesn’t con people. Or kill them. She’s the kind of character you want at the front of a new comic, and in that sense, Compass is very, very lucky. But – with credit due to Yanagi – didn’t I say Cebulski knows how to make believable characters?