GRYFFEN, ISSUES #7-11
Writer: Ben Kahn Art: Bruno Hidalgo Publisher: SBI Press
WHAT IS IT?
An anarchic, chaotic-neutral, philosophical intergalactic romp. Mostly a comedy with a fair amount of socio-political commentary sprinkled in.
It's a little like if Rick & Morty did a Star Wars spin-off. There's also a little Good Omens in there, at the heart of the book!
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
So begins the second half of the GRYFFEN series.
After the events and battles of the last issues, things start quietly.
Haha, just kidding, we immediatly jump into a scene of Lila Gryffen bleeding from their sliced neck (this scene is shown below).
But, for the most part, we start ramping up toward the end of the series as the gang heads toward the end of the universe. Over these next few issues, you get some major reveals about Lila and their past, and things quickly come to a head with nemesis, Rosalind Hunter.
But in between? Adventure! Character development! Chaos and banter! These issues lose none of the momentum gained by the first 6 issues.
The serious undertones become more like overtones in these issues. Things get a little more serious. The socio-political commentary gets more common, especially with regard to the toxicity of capitalism, tribalism, and humanity in general. The phenomenal banter is still there, the antics that you almost feel a little guilty about witnessing are still present. But there's a certain gravity you get in the home stretch of a story, and you certainly feel it here.
As always, one of my favorite parts of the art is how well Bruno Hidalgo incorporates sound effects into the scenes, playing with them as their own panels, or layers within the action of a scene.
The aforementioned reveal doesn't feel like it's out of nowhere. The seeds were planted, and, while you weren't looking, they grew into delightful little plot plants with perfectly ripened fruit. Yum!
Speaking of planting seeds that pay off later, we get a great joke that's set up early in issue #8 and executed beautifully by the end of the issue.
There's so much "punk" in these issues, and in the story at large. I'm not talking spikes and leather, but in the middle finger to the establishment and to society. Kahn makes it clear are "heroes" are anything but; comparing them closer to galactic arsonists. They're not here as a savior or an angel – not really. But they know the current system sucks, and they're gonna bring it the hell down.
Sometimes, that "chaotic-neutrality" (as I keep referring to it) is also played for laughs, to great effect. Gryffen and Dao, especially, embody this, taking huge and unnecessary risks on behalf of entire civilizations just to effect change for change's sake. And you still feel a little of that tension between them and Telika and Seti-Stela, are are probably closer to being "neutral-good." (Hope you like Dungeons & Dragons alignment charts, dear reader.) It's like the characters are aligned by the "neutral" aspects of their personalities, but there's still some dissonance there.
The side characters, while still mostly there for Gryffen to bounce off of and shine brighter for it, do have their own personalities and motivations. They're not as fleshed-out as Gryffen's, but Gryffen is the titular character, and the series is tightly written – too much character development might feel like an unnecessary diversion. So the choice is good.
We do get a lot more development for Hunter's character, seeing more human, vulnerable aspects of her personality, as well as her scary, savage, red-eyes-and-hair-down side. And seeing how she treats Gryffen, the way a mother or teacher might scold a wayward child, says wonders about their relationship. Hunter vs Gryffen feels like a spin on the traditional "good vs evil" stories, instead focusing on "order vs chaos," as one of its central themes. It makes you wonder how the story would look if told through Hunter's perspective.
Hidalgo's work gets better every issue, and it already started strong. The opening splash in issue #10 leads the eye so it takes in the whole page, giving the scene a sense of time and motion. The balance of the layouts on the final two pages of issue #11 are thoughtfully executed, noteworthy even though it's something that might get missed when reading digitally.
Hidalgo also curates color palettes well. It might look, from the chosen cover and interior art, that the whole comic has a reddish tint, but we actually see a great variety throughout, ranging from one scene heavy with gray and yellow to another filled with glowing moss and black walls with designs scratched into them, reminiscent of that paper where you scrape off the black to reveal the rainbow colors underneath.
I also admire how well Hidalgo balances simpler panels with more detailed ones. Artists work on a deadline, and honestly, I don't need every panel to be hyperdetailed, especially not in dialogue-heavy scenes. It's smart, and it's well done.
It's difficult to say something new about a letterer's contributions this deep into a series, especially when the illustrator does their own sound effects. But Sal Cipriano's been a steadfast champion throughout the series, finding just the right space for the balloons and choosing a typeface that matches the comic's chaotic tone while still being easily readable, even on smaller devices.
Other favorite parts throughout: Gryffen's brain is filled with "murder fantasies and gender nonsense," the NEVER WASH YOUR HANDS poster, and the ongoing joke of Gryffen calling Dao's hard light construct anything except for "hard light construct."
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Each issue catches the reader up on previous events. If you wanted to, you could start the series here. But why would you short-change yourself like that? Kick back, get the whole series. The issues are only 99¢ on Comixology!
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
Hope you're OK with nipples & sex talk, 'cause you get some of those things in here. BUT since I put stuff in here that might be a content warning for young readers, I'm noting that here.
Each issue is only 15 pages, which is shorter than most comics if you're bothered by that sort of thing (but at that 99¢ price point, it's a steal!)
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
With only one issue left in the series, I can safely say that GRYFFEN is a ride that's definitely worth the sticker price. More than worth it.
It makes philosophical points that sting you as you laugh at the situations and the well-written dialogue, and it tells a story that's enjoyable all the way through.
I'm really hoping Kahn and Hidalgo continue working together on another series, because what they've made here (and in the past) is nothing short of stellar.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Heavenly Blues by Ben Kahn & Bruno Hidalgo
Wasted Space, Vol. 1 by Michael Moreci & Hayden Sherman
Void Trip by Ryan O'Sullivan & Plaid Klaus
If you like the art:
Shaman, Vol. 1 by Ben Kahn & Bruno Hidalgo
The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1 by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá
Black Hammer, Vol. 1 by Jeff Lemire & Dean Ormston
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Ben Kahn – Writer
Has also written for video games and webcomics
Dream Team: Also worked with Bruno Hidalgo on the comics, Shaman & Heavenly Blues
Seems to enjoy the balance between humor and heartbreak
Bruno Hidalgo – Art & Colors
Had color assistance on this title from James Penafiel
Outlander: Hails from Barcelona, Spain
As of July 2017, he had never met Ben Kahn (not sure if they've met since then!)
Sal Cipriano – Letterer
Multitalented: Is also a designer and illustrator, and reviews action figures on YouTube
Most of his work has been for DC Comics
Big fan of wrestling
HOW DO I BUY IT?
Get it exclusively on Comixology!
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