Greetings, ‘Rama readers! Pierce Lydon here filling in for Best Shots captain David Pepose! We’ve got two books in the column today from Aftershock Comics and SBI Press. Here we go!
Written by Stephanie Phillips
Art by Evgeny Bornyakov and Lauren Affe
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Aftershock Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Conspiracy theories and political intrigue drive Descendent, Aftershock’s latest offering from writer Stephanie Phillips and artist Evgeny Bornyakov. It’s an effective debut that doesn’t overcomplicate its introduction to readers and as a result, make it much easier to get onboard with. It plays similarly to TV dramas like House of Cards or The Americans — building suspense and intrigue through otherwise seemingly regular moments. There’s a lot to like about Phillips approach in that respect. And Bornyakov’s clean linework is perfectly suited for a story like this.
The children of U.S. politicians and high ranking government0 officials are being kidnapped and one man is convinced that it’s all a part of a decades old conspiracy that also involved the Lindbergh baby. That’s a pretty good broad strokes summation of the plot of Descendent so far and Phillip’s script really effective lays that foundation. However, she gives us more layers by deftly introducing a broad range of characters that are all brought together by the central mystery and look to give us very different perspectives on the plot as it unfolds. Plus cults and conspiracies are very en vogue right now and Phillips does a good job at least making her story seem plausible on the surface level which will go a long way to endearing the story to true crime fans.
Bornyakov’s work is extremely effective as well. His style is fairly straightforward - offering up a slightly stylized take on reality. But what’s really impressive is his choice of shots. Bornyakov lets readers linger on some of the symbology of that is key to the book, allowing those images to hold more weight as book goes on. This also allows for more dynamic introduction to the characters as the camera slowly zooms out and pans up or a staccato nine panel grid adds tension to a character’s reveal. Bornyakov is excellent at making those moments memorable and unique for each character. That goes a long way to getting reader’s invested in the world of this story.
Aftershock publishes a wide range of stories and Descendent feels like it was an easy green light considering that conspiracy theory stories are quite popular right now. But what’s most impressive is how tight the script and storytelling is. It’s not often that you see a creative team this locked in from the outset and that speaks to Phillips and Bornyakov’s ability to put this thing together. If there’s something to really nitpick here, it’s that we don’t get a great sense of what the title is supposed to mean in the context of the story and that’s a little bit of a letdown. but overall, this is a promising debut that provides a solid hook to keep readers coming back for more.
Gryffen: Galaxy’s Most Wanted #1
Written by Ben ‘Bee’ Kahn
Art by Bruno Hidalgo and James Penafiel
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by SBI Press
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Meet your new favorite revolutionaries in the debut of Gryffen: Galaxy’s Most Wanted. Available digitally tomorrow, writer Bee Kahn and artist Bruno Hidalgo throw us feet first into the more-than-a-little fascist Sovereign Reach, who is currently putting on trial one of their former “heroes”, Captain Lyla Gryffen. The thing is, Gryffen straight up hates the Reach and isn’t afraid to let everyone know.
But while intergalactic revolution isn’t exactly groundbreaking, the broadly comic tone Kahn takes throughout this opening adds a very fun layer to the debut, adding to the manic energy of the title overall. Amplifying that mania is the artwork of Bruno Hidalgo and James Penafiel. Tightly contained to hilarious panel layouts of wicked dialogue exchanges or extreme violence, Hidalgo and Penafiel show us the “lighter side” of space revolution, evoking the work of Jeff Lemire with a searing neon color scheme. Dying for a cause is easy, comedy is hard but the debut of Gryffen: Galaxy’s Most Wanted makes both a damn fun time.
After a curt, but concise opening text over the credits page, Kahn starts moving at a brisk pace. Opening in media res on the trial of Captain Gryffen, Kahn gets a lot of worldbuilding out of the way in the first few pages. And it does the debut a whole heap of good. Gryffen is being tried for “war crimes” after their sudden turn against the stagnant and war-mongering Reach. Kahn even hammers the point home with an impassioned speech by Gryffen about their refusal to promote science and exploration. They then double down on the point with the introduction of the title’s second lead, Ensign Telika, a crimson-skinned Elven alien, deep undercover for an unseen Resistance. Telika obviously experiences racist remarks which spurs her to plan to spring Gryffen to bring down the Reach.
But here is where things get goofy, and far more entertaining. Kahn then throws a super fun curveball at the audience, revealing that Gryffen, in her own profanity laced way, has accounted for all of this, taking the Ensign “hostage” in order to break out another prisoner, a genetically modified “master of all science” (and occasional hook-up for the Captain) and war with the Reach with scientific discovery and innovation. Kahn’s script is consistently funny from the jump, either with well staged jokes or wicked turns of phrase, but this turn really sells the whole concept. Galactic revolutions are a dime a dozen, but how often do you get to read about people fighting facism with literal science? It is almost too fun.
And speaking of fun, artists Bruno Hidalgo and James Penafiel lean into the anarchy of the script. While I would have loved for Hidalgo to have broken out of the traditional panel grid layouts, his lithe, expressive style absolutely nails both the comedic and action beats of the script. Coloring his own work with the assistance of Penafiel, Hidalgo’s work stands like an indie comic-by-way-of-Adult Swim, anchored by sketchy character models deeply staged into single colored neon backgrounds.
And if you love over the top comedic violence, Gryffen has you covered! Starting with an impromptu prison riot and ending with the Captain discovering how much they love swinging a sword, Bruno Hidalgo and James Penafiel give this debut a standout action sequence amid all the jokes and visual comedy. The whole scene, where limbs are severed and faces are stomped, is bathed in a searing pink stage lighting, a marked and a welcome change from the usual dingy and dark lighting we usually get from indie comic books.
Comedy is often a tricky line to walk in comic books, but I am happy to report that Gryffen: Galaxy’s Most Wanted #1 walks it well. Better still, it has something new to say, both with a novel premise and keen point of view on space operas. Kahn, Hidalgo, and Penafiel hit the ground running with this debut, barreling through the worldbuilding to get to the real good stuff; the jokes and action, all of which hit and hit hard. If you have been looking for a book to fill the Joyride or 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank sized hole in your heart, look no further than Gryffen: Galaxy’s Most Wanted #1.