Pop culture typically depicts voodoo as a dark-and-dingy practice in which bones are scattered and animals are sacrificed. Its most popular figures are a man in a top hat with a skull painted on his face and the dreadlocked lady from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie who lived like a hermit in a cabin deep within the swamps. (Interestingly, both tangled with James Bond. Weird.)
It’s a bit of a shocker, then, when the voodoo practitioners of Dan Ciurczak’s Vibe look like rad dudes straight out of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s so … in-your-face and hella rad. Full disclosure: I have no idea whether the aggressively neon look of Vibe is closer to the faith. Heck, I have no idea whether it’s blasphemous. It’s certainly a different, take though; a direct contrast to the dour, gloomy reputation of voodoo. The colors are garish and bold — neon and pastel colors clashing together in a forbidden sherbet spectrum. It’s bright, jazzy and wild.
Meet Baron Bones, a young kid with issues: Vibe opens with him losing most of his immediate family; his parents are dead, and his sister Brigitte disappears without much warning. Such events can drive other young kids to become grim avengers of the night. Baron, instead, becomes a witch doctor … which, in the world of Vibe, makes him practically a superhero in the Teen Titans mold.
In fact, being a voodoo practitioner for the modern age is not greatly different from being a Pokemon trainer, it seems. Baron is accompanied by a couple of cute creatures whose properties he taps to augment his skills. One, for example, transforms into a spiky suit of armor. Another gives him a pair of icy boots. They transform Baron into some sort of zippy superhero, using his good vibes to lay the smackdown on towering monoliths created by bad vibes.
Eventually, he runs into Furio, a hulking dude whose language is thick with patois. Here’s some sample dialogue, which is positively Claremontian: “Sorry mon, mi was undah di impression ya had da simplest concepts of voodoo undah yah belt.” It’s a little abstruse, but becomes lyrical the more you read it. Furio attacks Baron, and he reveals he’s looking for his sister Brigitte. Although he seems like a villain at first, Furio eventually tries to form an alliance with the young witch doctor upon his second meeting. It turns out he’s a more complicated man than at first sight. Also, he has a weird penchant for wearing adorable hoodies.
Baron also meets Sylvia, a lonely classmate who’s seriously crushing on our hero. She’s also possessed by a pretty monstrous vibe that’s hella impossible to defeat. This establishes the tone of Vibe: It’s non-stop monster-fighting … not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Vibe doesn’t take any breathers; it can be overwhelmingly hyperactive. The energetic, breakneck pace is not unlike that of a kindergartner on a sugar rush. Panels crowd together to blot out most of the negative space. Focusing on any one object becomes impossible when every single object is composed of several tiny items and color schemes that border on the mental.
What it lacks in comprehensibility, though, it makes up for in style. In fact, I can’t imagine Vibe if it wasn’t something of a mess. The edges are jagged, and the outlines are thick and heavy. The onomatopoeia pops off the page, impossible to ignore and becoming part of the art itself. There’s a big emphasis on perspective shots; hands and fists, especially, are often placed at the foreground to remind the reader of their untamable fury. It’s got a bit of that anarchy that comes from graffiti, and some of the exaggerated action poses you find in shonen manga. It’s East meets West at the most adrenaline-filled extremes of both.