Written by: Alyssa Wong
Art by: Haining
Colors by: Sebastian Cheng
Letters by: Janice Chiang
Cover art by: Haining, Sebastian Cheng
Cover price: $3.99
Release date: May 9, 2023
Is It Good?
On the whole, Spirit World #1 is pretty okay. Alyssa Wong’s story about a Spirit Envoy trapped in the land of the living has a decent amount of mystery, interesting mysticism, an eclectic band of supporting characters, and one or two moments of genuine heart. Except for one creative choice that sticks out like a sore thumb, this issue would be a great start.
Alyssa Wong’s story centers on Xanthe Zhou, a Spirit Envoy who helps guide the living into the land of the dead after their passing. Xanthe was first introduced for this series in the Lazarus Planet: Dark Fate anthology as a short story prologue to the events that take place in this issue, including Batgirl’s accidental transportation to the Spirit World.
Now, Xanthe enlists the help of Constantine to find a way back home while Batgirl partners with allies in the Spirit World to avoid getting eaten.
Admittedly, I don’t know much about the ins and outs of Eastern mysticism except what’s been reproduced in other Western mediums. To Alyssa Wong’s credit, the structure and rules of the Spirit World are unveiled to the reader efficiently and organically through conversations and the characters’ actions. I have no idea how accurate this Spirit World is compared to traditional theology, but it works well enough here to tell the story.
Xanthe is an okay character from what’s shown so far. Wong doesn’t supply much information about Xanthe’s background, motivations, likes, dislikes, etc., but you learn a little about Xanthe’s moral compass from a “save the cat” moment in the opening pages and Xanthe’s snarky rapport with Constantine. In short, Wong doesn’t grab your attention in this first issue, but Xanthe seems likable enough to try out another issue or two.
Watch our Spirit World #1 Video Review
Now for the sore thumb. Wong made the unsurprising choice to make Xanthe some combination of non-binary, gender fluid, they/them/these/those/etc as a creative choice. There’s nothing wrong with having an atypical identity as the hero, but the way Wong goes about informing the reader Xanthe is atypical is as unnatural and painfully awkward as possible.
First, Xanthe saves a little girl from being swept away in a flash flood in the opening pages. The little girl thanks Xanthe and says goodbye by saying “Thank you, older sister or older brother!” No little girl, especially not a little girl who was just saved from dying, stops to adjust her speech to not assume her savior’s gender, especially when Xanthe clearly presents as female. The interaction in that panel feels so unnaturally awkward that you’re immediately taken out of the comic.
Second, Batgirl finds an ally in the Spirit World named Po Po, who happens to be Xanthe’s adoptive caretaker. When Cass asks about the rules of the Spirit World and Xanthe, Po Po goes on to describe Xanthe with they/them terms that will make your grammar shorthairs curl. It’s nearly impossible to imagine any being saying those sentences out loud without tripping over their own tongue.
Again, this criticism has nothing to do with a character being whoever or whatever they want. It’s about a writer trying to normalize how characters “should” speak and act in the service of some message or agenda, and it comes off as painfully awkward and unnatural in context. Characters have to act like real people to be relatable, and no real person has or ever will talk like that little girl or Po Po. By making characters unnatural in service to some social point or agenda, Wong may have scuttled her chances of success with this title.
How’s the art? It’s fine. If you’re familiar with the names in the credits above, you know most of the team worked on the recently concluded Monkey Prince series. If you liked the art in The Monkey Prince, you’ll like the art here.
About The Reviewer: Gabriel Hernandez is the Publisher & EIC of ComicalOpinions.com, a comics review site dedicated to indie, small, and mid-sized publishers.
Bits and Pieces: