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Review: Grass Kings #1

I’m not sure what it is about human beings and plots of land, but ever since our species (well, most of us, at any rate) gave up its nomadic ways, the places we’ve chosen to inhabit have become downright sacred to us. On the one hand, that can manifest itself in generally innocuous, perhaps even quaint, ways such as hometown pride. On the other, it can give rise to genuinely ugly impulses such as nationalism and a fear of the other, of those who come from somewhere else.

It remains to be seen how attachment to place will play out in the pages of Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins‘ new series Grass Kings, the first issue of which has just seen print courtesy of BOOM! Studios, but there’s no doubt that this particular patch of dirt near a lake (referred to simply as “the” lake) has been hard-fought for. Kindt and Jenkins show us snippets of its bloody history — dating back to 1200 A.D. — in a masterful bit of stage-setting before dropping us squarely into the present day, where it now serves as the home of something called “The Grass Kingdom,” a “breakaway community” of sorts that seems to answer to no greater national, state, or even local authorities and functions as a safe haven for those who choose — or perhaps are forced by circumstance — to withdraw from society at large in favor of an isolated, self-sufficient existence. I can certainly get behind that idea — like many, the political ascendancy of Donald Trump has already tempted me to head for the hills on numerous (and counting) occasions — but I’m not sure if a sprawling, junked-out trailer court is where I’d choose to go if I ever really did to decide to “get off the grid.” Still, the so-called “Grass Kingdom” is what it is, and there’s probably a pretty good reason it finds itself in the state it’s in today.

Those reasons remain to be expounded upon, of course, first issues being the “appetizers” that they are, but in truth not much more feels like it needs to be done by way of “world-building” here as this opening installment is, in effect, one massive info-dump. A decidedly clever and elegant info-dump, to be sure, but an info-dump just the same.

In fairly short order we come to learn that this ramshackle “kingdom” is overseen by three brothers, the eldest of whom, Bruce, serves as the de facto lawman (most of the “action” here revolves around his apprehension and escorting-off-the-premises of a youth from the nearby town of Cargill, who asks a lot of questions and gets most of the answers he — and we — need in order to limn the “lay of the land,” so to speak), while the youngest, Robert, has somehow risen to and/or inherited the position of leader of the community, despite the fact that he spends most of his time drinking away his considerable sorrows stemming from the tragic loss of his daughter and subsequent departure of his wife. One gets the distinct impression that the “Kingdom” functions despite Robert’s “leadership” rather than because of it, but the late-issue arrival of a mysterious stranger under even more mysterious circumstances may just prove to be the kick in the pants he needs to get him to start taking his responsibilities seriously again. And if that won’t do it, the belief on the part of Cargill’s sheriff that the “Kingdom” might be harboring a serial killer and that he needs to do something about it probably will —

There’s really a lot to like about this first chapter, I must say — from Jenkins’ gorgeously sparse and austere water-color artwork to Kindt’s equally low-key-but-effective characterization and authentic, unforced (which is saying something considering how much backstory he covers with it) dialogue, and truth be told I’m not sure how much more a person can realistically demand from an introductory salvo than what we get here. The proceedings positively drip with intrigue to the point where you’re dying to know more about the makeshift community’s past and its uncertain-to-say-the-least present, and its understated-yet-lavish visual language pulls you in and grips you tight every bit as much as its multi-faceted storyline. A strong undercurrent of tragedy seems to unite everyone who makes this place their home, and more tragedy seems to be looming on the horizon if the Cargill cops have their way. Kindt and Jenkins are both experts at their craft, and it’s a thing of quiet beauty to watch these two masters storytellers reel you in with the kind of seeming effortlessness that only comes when people are putting a hell of a lot of actual work into what they’re doing. Am I in for the duration? You’d better believe it.

Also worthy of (very) special note here is BOOM!’s superb packaging, which really gives you a lot of bang for your buck (and, incidentally, I purchased my copy of this, no digital “freebie” here). 30 pages of story and art on high-quality paper with heavy cardstock covers for $3.99? I’m not sure how they can maintain that standard — or even if they plan to — and still break even on this book, but if they can, then Marvel needs to pay some serious attention to their business model every bit as much as you, dear reader, need to pay attention to this series. Grass Kings #1 is an enchantingly bleak debut for what could very well prove to be one of the most talked-about comics of the year.

Story: Matt Kindt Art: Tyler Jenkins
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

BOOM! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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