Break from the Bat #14: Grass Kings

Welcome back to Break from the Bat, your monthly dose of comics from anywhere but Gotham. I’ve got to level with you—I’ve been feeling a little burned out lately, and I told myself I would spend a few months focusing this column on books I was already reading, rather than looking for something completely fresh. But then Matt Kindt had to go and release another new title, and here I am talking about Grass Kings #1: an engrossing, tense collaboration with artist Tyler Jenkins, published by Boom! Studios.

Art by Tyler Jenkins

Kindt offers very little unfiltered exposition, instead focusing (largely) on a single, extended conversation. Most of what we know by the end—the contentious history of the story’s geography, the interesting governmental structure of the Grass Kingdom, and the troubled past of its king—emerges from that conversation. Consequently, you won’t find a book that reads easier than this one, because Kindt skillfully layers an impressive amount of detail between the various beats of his deceptively-simple plot.

While light on character moments, Grass Kings nevertheless provides a strong sense of its major players—the brothers running the Kingdom. Each of them have their distinct qualities; and as one of several boys in my family—and the father of three sons—I appreciate that no two are quite the same—how each brother seems a shard of a complete person, and how the balance of their whole enterprise depends on the balance they provide to each other.

Artist Tyler Jenkins’s lines produce characters and scenery that almost look like real life through weakening eyes—an effect beautifully exaggerated by his washed-out watercolor finishes. Grass Kings #1 feels like a slice of the ordinary for its inhabitants, but Jenkins maintains visual interest with ease—and without leaning on bombastic color work as a crutch.

Overall, this is another outstanding debut from Matt Kindt—perhaps the most consistent example of the psychotically prolific modern comics writer. Grass Kings #1 is in stores now, and I anxiously await #2 next month.

Thus ends my short look at another noteworthy book beyond Gotham. Let me know what you think of Grass Kings, and on your way to the comments, have a look at some of the other books we’re reading at Batman News.

Adam Strange/Future Quest Special #1; Booster Gold/The Flintstones Special #1

Art by Doc Shaner

These Hanna-Barbera crossover specials were weird.  I don’t think any of them worked out as well as they could have.  Josh already covered the Suicide Squad/Banana Splits team-up, which was… not great, and the Green Lantern/Space Ghost issue was a pretty good Space Ghost story with some bizarrely rendered art and an even more insufferable Hal Jordan than usual.

Seriously, that guy

The two we’re featuring today are the better entries of the four, and bonus: they kind of have Batman elements.  Booster Gold’s time-travel jaunt was the most pure fun I had reading any of these, as he goes back in time to prevent a war in the future only to screw up and accidentally cause it in the first place.  It’s silly fun, and there’s a great little gag where he tries to call other time travelers to come to his assistance.  One of those calls goes to Alfred Pennyworth, dusting what is obviously Bruce Wayne’s study from Batman ’66.  It appealed to my sensibilities, to say the least.

Adam Strange/Future Quest is weird: it follows on the events of the surprising solid Death of Hawkman, and takes place after Future Quest #12… which hasn’t been released yet.  Regardless, while it isn’t as good as the sum of either series it mashes up, it’s still fun, and getting some direct follow-up on Adam Strange’s fate is nice.

Then there’s the backup, which features Batman.  And man, does he kind of come across as a chump.

Written by Dan DiDio, it’s a Top Cat joint where the titular feline tells Batman what he’s doing in Gotham.  Like mot of these updates, it’s almost jarringly dark and cynical, trying way too hard to be “relevant” and “edgy.”  And it’s not like I’m even a dyed-in-the-wool Top Cat fanatic; even when I was growing up and shows like this were on Cartoon Network, I’d skip out on Top Cat and come back when they showed another Super Chunk marathon of The Impossibles.

The story is meant to lead into a Top Cat ongoing, detailing how he became the “top cat” of prison in his own world and how his best friend Benny wound up going through a dimensional vortex.  So really, it’s just a backdoor pilot for an upcoming book (though most of the backups in these specials are), and Batman comes across as kind of an idiot in the end.  There’s a cute little line about how he has a weakness for cats, but it just kind of fell flat for me.  It looks pretty good, though: Phil Winslade’s Batman is a little dicey, but Top Cat himself has the best updated look of any of the Hanna-Barbera characters I’ve seen outside of Future Quest.  He looks modern while still retaining his cartoony characterstics, staying far away from the uncanny valley with a look that still fits in realistic environments.

Still, it’s not a great Batman treatment, and I say that as a guy who gets tired of Batman being infallible and one step ahead of everybody.  But hey, the main story was pretty ok.

– Jay

R.L. Stine’s Man-Thing

Art by Tyler Crook

Real talk: I picked this up because it’s by R. L. Stine.  Having read my fair share of Goosebumps as a kid I was curious to see what my 8-year-old self’s favorite author could do with a comic book character.  Two issues in, I’m not disappointed.

The basic idea is that after years of being a monstrous, mute swamp creature, Man-Thing has regained his intelligence and voice to become an eloquent monstrous swamp creature.  First thing he does?  Tries to make it big in Hollywood.

For somebody who only has a passing knowledge of Man-Thing (similarities with Swamp Thing thanks to Gerry Conway and Len Wein being roomies; he’s a man who is also a thing) this is a pretty easy story to get into.  The origin is laid out in a pretty dry, self-deprecating manner, and Stine’s script is aloof and goofy enough that even the heavier material never bogs the story down.  It’s just a weird story of a swamp guy doing weird things like losing the ability to speak yet again when his mute double attacks him in the streets of Hollywood and takes over his body so he’s forced to go back to the swamp and try to find some wizard guy only to run into an old flame and daydream that she’s in love with him only just kidding she’s actually vomiting in the swamp after he saved her from a prehistoric crocodile that’s the size of a bus.

– Jay

Star Trek/Green Lantern

Art by Stephen Mooney and Tamra Bonvillain

Intercompany crossovers like this rarely work.  This is rarely.

IDW and DC teamed up for these series and the results are surprisingly engaging.  One of the things that I never like about these big property crossovers is that nothing really matters.  Once the story’s over the status quo remains unchanged.  The first crossover, The Spectrum War, makes some bold choices and actually comes out a better comic because of it.

The idea is that the DC Universe was completely destroyed by Nekron.  Ganthet, in a desperate attempt to prevent the Black Lantern from taking over another universe, uses what is called the Last Light to transport all surviving Lanterns from each Corps to another universe.  They wind up in the Star Trek Abramsverse, and naturally have to defeat Nekron there as well.  Once everything is said and done and the mission is accomplished, though, the Lanterns are stranded in this new universe.

That’s a pretty bold ending, and I actually think it made the story better for it.  Instead of reversing everything and resetting the timeline so nothing ever happened, the Lanterns now live alongside Starfleet members and have to adjust to a new world.  It’s a great storytelling choice, even if Hal Jordan is still a stupid jerkface (he forces everyone to acknowledge he is a Captain too, just so he doesn’t have to listen to Captain Kirk.  Uuuuuuuuggghhhhhh).

The followup series, Stranger Worlds, is now on its fourth issue, and it is showing some signs of a narrative slump.  Instead of using lesser-known or original Star Trek villains, Khan “John” Noonien “Harrison” Singh shows up again (the Benedict Cumberbatch one).  It’s a bit disappointing that such a popular villain was recycled, but it’s still a pretty fun space adventure.

If you can get past seeing pretty good likenesses of Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto interacting with completely fictional comic book characters, I think you’ll have a good time with this.

– Jay