Welcome dear readers to the first issue of Alyssa Wong’s Spirit World in honor of AAPI heritage month. Following their first appearance in the We Are Legends short story within the Lazarus Planet event, Xanthe Zhou returns to lead their own original series. Xanthe must gather allies to rescue Batgirl from the mysterious Spirit World!
Xanthe stands for underrepresented members of AAPI heritage and the LGBT community simultaneously. One character even calls Xanthe jie jie/ge ge (Bro/Sis) in Manderin respect to their pronouns. Also, the non-binary magician expands magical Asian lore only explored in Monkey Prince. Consequently, Spirit World establishes all new ethnic concepts like the Jiangshi or other monsters to the DC Universe. Naturally, the first issue contains a fair bit of expositional world building. Far as I understand, the actual spirit world is a nexus that houses spiritual creatures who feed on life. When the spirits appear in the real world, a spirit envoy like Xanthe can send them back by exorcism. However, living beings stand no chance in the spirit world.
The story begins not so long after Batgirl inexplicably travels to the spirit world. Constantine has quite literally set up shop in a sundries store in Gotham to aid Xanthe in rescuing Batgirl. On a small lead, Constantine and Xanthe hunt down a necromancer named Easton in hopes of opening the gate between worlds. Conceptually, it reminds me quite a bit of Jackie Chan Adventures, Coco (2017), American Dragon, Devil May Cry, or even Yara Flor in Wonder Girl. Although, this series shares a lot in common with the AAPI heroine from The Life and Times of Juniper Lee. Regardless, Xanthe’s spirit envoy helps spirits and humans alike with a goal of returning to the realm themselves.
Meanwhile, Cassandra Cain finds herself in an unfamiliar but opportune situation. Cassie lands in the harsh spirit world with little ability to defend herself from the demonic forces seeking out her aura. Apparently, spirits have the ability to home in on everything from the living world. Luckily, Cassie meets Xanthe’s supporting cast of found family members on the other side who can dampen her aura. In particular, Batgirl conveniently meets Xanthe’s infamous grandmother named Granny Po Po and her assistant Bowen. Unsurprisingly, Po Po fits every magical “cool old lady” trope. Under the powerful Granny’s protection, Cassie may end up adding magic to her utility belt sooner than later.
What is most interesting in Spirit World is how Alyssa Wong and Haining choose to build the world. Just with paper, Wong establishes clear rules within the universe. The objects burned or left for the dead at shrines becomes real in the spirit world. Yet, a spirit envoy like Xanthe can transform the paper into real world objects like Xanthe’s magical “buster sword.” Apart from leaning on Constantine’s habit of “always knowing a guy,” Xanthe also seems to be a premier expert in the field on par with the Hellraiser. Even though Xanthe’s past is still a mystery, their previous life plays heavily into the story while carefully not revealing Xanthe’s original name and gender.
Lastly, I tend to notice a lot of fascinating references within Haining’s manga-esque artwork. The child in the yellow raincoat narrowly escaping a trip to the spirit world resembles Georgie from Stephen King’s IT (2017). Moreover, I got a kick out of the snobbish ghosts wearing traditional qipao dresses and boas. Incidentally, the gross neck move reminds me more of a Japanese yokai like the Rokurokubi. The collective creatures and many of the other featured monsters have simple but creepy designs as well. Additionally, the action pacing is fairly nice and has a good sense of space. This even includes some instances of creative lettering framing the action within itself.
- You’re an Asian American who has wanted to see a more relatable kind of hero.
- Interested in stories with deep ties to magic and folklore.
- You want to read more LGBTQIA2S+ genre stories.
At times, Spirit World feels like an indie comic or manga. Other times, Spirit World feels very familiar like a television show someone told you about, but finally got around to. I urge Alyssa Wong to take advantage of the world building the world of Spirit World. Readers will likely follow this tale so long as there remains a good bit of curiosity about the lore. The sole negative aspect is the divisiveness of the specific material. Nearly every aspect of the book fits into a specific niche that many may interpret as pandering to an agenda. Though with patience, I’m hoping readers can find something cool about this new if not all that original character.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purposes of this review.