Pullbox Reviews: Gryffen #4 – Kneeing convention right in the groin…

From the personal log of captain lyla gryffen:

Tyrants and freedom fighters. Two groups of sanctimonious pricks who are equal pains in my ass right now. I got the Reach’s Admiral Rosalind Hunter trying to massacre my First Officer’s people and Resistance leader Rojon sitting on his ass letting her do it. Honestly, which is worse? (It’s Hunter. She’s worse. But they both suck.) Telika trusts Rojon and his little rebellion. I don’t.

Every idealist is just a fall from grace waiting to happen.

Being a ship’s captain is no picnic at the best of times. Every little problem that comes along is your problem, and everything that goes wrong is your fault. The best case scenario is that you’ve got yourself a shit hot First Officer to take some of the pressure off of you… but when you’ve got to kidnap that First Officer, things get a little dicey. Telika, deep cover operative for the resistance and sworn enemy of the heavy-handed Reach, finds herself squarely in the “dicey” column.

Kidnapped by notorious ne’er-do-well Lyla Gryffen and named First Officer of the stolen ship Al-Haytham, Telika is stuck in the middle of a philosophical tug of war. On the one hand is the obviously bad Reach, who have placed a blockade around her home planet of Ensara in response to her treasonous ways. On the other hand, Rojon- leader of the resistance and the one being in whom she’d placed all of her faith- won’t risk his resources to defend her world.

In the plus column, escaped prisoner turned starship Captain Lyla Gryffen eats impossible problems for breakfast and shits insane solutions. Telika is either going to have to get on board with leaving her planet to die “for the cause”, or change her ideas of conflict resolution.

When you find yourself falling into insanity, sometimes the only thing you can do is dive.

 Together again after their outrageous run on Heavenly Blues (a personal indie favorite of mine, for which you can find reviews here…), the team of Ben Kahn & Bruno Hidalgo had their own choice to make: Where do you go after telling the story of a group of damned souls who are recruited from Hell to steal the Holy Grail from an archangel’s vault in Heaven? The answer is, to the stars, baby!

Gryffen is a story of anarchy, rebellion, & anarchy, told from the point of view of reluctant First Officer Telika as she’s dragged into Lyla Gryffen’s crusade to tear the walls down. Any walls. You point Gryffen at a wall and that bitch is coming down. Authority issues? Maybe. Which is part of the problem for Telika. Originally a deep cover operative for the resistance, she finds herself caught up in the all-encompassing whirlwind that seems to make up Gryffen’s world. What writer Ben Kahn brings to the table is the ability to invest characters with attitudes all their own, and then let them go on about their business. What that means in Gryffen is that the normally straight-laced and dedicated Telika is allowed to come to terms with her role in an indifferent universe as it’s presented it to her, not just be what she’s been told she needs to be according to someone else’s Grand Plan. The comic’s title might be Gryffen, but it’s really Telika’s character arc that we’re following. Kahn handles it all with witty dialogue and characters that defy definition… pretty much everything I’d expect from the brain behind Heavenly Blues (dunno if I’ve mentioned it, but I loved that book… hey, I think you can find a review for it here).

Bruno Hidalgo… huh. Given that the focus of Gryffen seems to be about breaking molds and kicking the crap out of expectations, it’s perfectly fitting that his artistic style leaps outside of the box. And then kicks the box. Twice. Hidalgo has a left of center way of presenting characters that doesn’t really fit into the norm for comicbook art. Where some might look at his work and think it’s rough or “toonish” and not at all what you’d expect in an intergalactic sci fi adventure, I see it as adding to the overall theme of the book. If a story is all about exposing the evils of adhering to assigned roles or norms, why shouldn’t the artwork carry more of a fringe look to it? What’s kinda cool in this title, as opposed to Heavenly Blues (you might’ve heard of that one), is that Hidalgo gets to play around a bit more with character designs. His mishmash of aliens is eclectic, from the hairless cat looking World War II bomber jacket wearing Rojon, to a tentacled unicorn shark looking dude, Gryffen is populated by all sorts. Deal with it.

The rest of the visual aspect of the book is credited to James Penafiel lending assistance on the colors, and Sal Cipriano for lettering. I’m not sure where Panafiel’s work specifically starts or ends, but what he’s done with Hidalgo is help create a brightly hued comic that keeps everything & everyone distinctive. Characters never get lost in the background, and all are sharply defined. Cipriano’s lettering is generally pretty subtle, with dialogue never getting in the way with what’s happening on the page. His only divergence from the Letterer’s Creed of “thou shalt not take up too much space in the panel” is in some pretty dramatic use of sound effects. It works out, though, as Cipriano doesn’t just take up space in the background for sound effects… his sound effects become the background in the panel.

(I don’t really know if there’s a Letterer’s Creed… I’m just tossing stuff out there and hoping that my tens of readers can forgive the liberties I take.)

Gryffen is a rebellious romp. I don’t how else to describe it. The title character is chaos incarnate, and the rest of the universe the book encompasses is forced to keep up or get out of the way. The story itself is just the framework in which Ben Kahn has decided to unleash the line-breaker within. Leave your expectations in the airlock and you’ll be just fine.

Final Score: 9

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