Before I dive into the meat of this second issue I’ve got to give a little bit of love to Comixology. For those of you who already read a lot of comics no doubt Comixology is known to you. For those of my readers who don’t read comics, or are new to comics, like myself, then Comixology is worth a look. One of the biggest hurdles I’ve comes across when it comes to reading comics is the sheer number of them. I walk into a comic book store and I don’t know where to start. How do I find issue 1 of anything? Is this volume different than that volume? I’m not a fan of superheroes, I lean more toward the indie-side of. . .well pretty much anything in comics. Boom! Studios has come out with a lot to admire lately, as has Vault, and obviously, Image comics is a front-runner for best comic book publisher of the last decade or more. But if you don’t know what you like about comics, it’s daunting walking into a shop and seeing the number of issues strewn across the shelves. It’s a commitment spending cash on a collection of #1 issues you may not like. Furthermore, I’ve found that a single issue typically isn’t enough content for me to really know if I want to continue with the comic. In the past, I’ve erred on the side of caution and just stopped reading the comic altogether because the risk was a bit too high for me. Comixology cuts down on this risk. It’s a bit like Netflix for comic books. It’s a digital marketplace. Without a subscription to Comixology Unlimited, you’ll be paying retail prices for anything you want to read, but for $5 a month, you’ll get access to a huge database of comic book content. It’s tricky, they sucker you in, make the first 3-4 issues of a comic free for Unlimited subscribers, get you hooked, and then you end up buying subsequent issues because, well, you know you like the comic, and you know the $4 an issue you’re spending is worth the money. This is why I binged 5 issues of Grass Kings last night. I don’t know how many issues are part of the Unlimited subscription, but it’s a fantastic and beautiful comic. One I’ll continue to explore, bringing you breakdowns of each issue in the coming days. So, without further ado, let’s get started, shall we?
(MINOR SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT: References from issue 1 and 2 ahead. No major spoilers, however).
Set up: In my last review I started with setting rather than set up. The setting is important in a first issue. In many ways, a first issue is a guide for readers. A #1 tells the reader, “this is the world you live in. This is how you read this comic.” First chapters of novels often do the same thing. So, since we know how to read this comic, thanks to #1, the setting is less important than the setup, in #2.
The first two pages here remind readers what this comic is about. It’s about land. It’s about ownership. It’s about theft. 1760 A.D. A Native American man fishes with a spear. He hears something behind him and is shot through the chest. The narration is about how this land has blood spilled on it. The violence passed down from parent to child. The captions are in reference to a white man who has killed the Native American–for no reason. In the woods, behind the white man, a young boy, one that is implied to be the white man’s son, stands shocked by the violence. The time then shifts to a more contemporary time.
Robert, the Grass King, the ruler and drunk of the Grass Kingdom, helps a woman out of the same river the native man was fishing in. She has bruises all down her legs, her arms. She is young-ish. Robert can’t help but equate her appearance with his lost daughter–a daughter that disappeared near the lake some time ago. He was there, taking a nap and when he woke, his daughter, Rose, was nowhere to be found. He thinks this woman could be her. It is no surprise then that he will do anything to help her.
Character: The fact that Robert first identifies this woman from the river as his daughter is a subtle and clever construct. The woman is not much younger than Robert, so a romantic relationship could otherwise feel imminent. But the paternal aspect Robert takes on from the first moment he sees her, make the whole situation less creepy than it would otherwise be. He is immediately this woman’s guardian.
Plot: At first, the woman from the river may seem like “the damsel in distress” a tired trope, for sure, but readers’ perspectives of her will change in subsequent issues.
In the immediate, however, Maria is used as a sounding board for Robert to tell his past woes, which, again, is a bit tired = woman as a construct for a man’s story. *Facepalm* But it does get better. Anyway, it’s revealed why and how Robert’s family fell apart after his daughter went missing. His wife blamed him, he blamed her. Everything went to shit.
At the same time, the Sheriff of the neighboring town, Cargill, has sent his main man, Big Dan, to go find this woman. A time stamp is finally put on the piece, as a young black man who goes by the name of Pinball and his young friend listen to records and talk about all the crazy ideas they have. Steal a plane and fly it across the country. Be the Kerouac of the sky. When Pinball is on his way home, Big Dan is waiting for him. Big Dan wants to start a war. Anything for the Sheriff to finally destroy The Grass Kindom. Pinball gets pretty roughed up.
Art: The beginning of this issue feels a bit raw. The panels are smaller, and so there’s only so much you can do with watercolor as it bleeds outside the ink lines. Those panels are the ones where Robert takes in the woman from the river. While impressionistic in the extreme, and raw in their execution, they give a sense of vulnerability, just as the woman from the river is vulnerable. It is evident by her exhaustion as well as her bruised arms and legs.
The watercolors continue to stir emotion despite the grim and sad subject matter. The memory flashbacks use dreamy, lighter colors, and when Robert is narrating about how his wife left him, there are panels of her talking to him, but her speech bubbles are covered up by his narration captions. I’ve never seen this done before but thought it was effective in conveying the fact that Robert never listened to what his wife was saying to him. He was too busy rationalizing, finding some other reason for his daughter’s disappearance other than his neglect.
Conclusion: There’s a lot to admire here, despite the tropes that could be picked at. Robert, barely even spoken about in #1, takes center stage, and it’s easy to empathize with him.
I’m curious who the historic prologues belong to. Are those who live in The Grass Kingdom descendants of the white settles who killed the natives of this land with impunity? Or are they the descendants of the Native Americans, trying to take back what was rightfully theirs? Come to think of it, the narrator of those panels could be anyone. The Sheriff of Cargill. Robert. His brother, Bruce, or even Big Dan.