“Gryffen: Galaxy’s Most Wanted” #9 takes us back to where it all began – and leaves Lyla in a very unfortunate situation.
Story: Ben Kahn
Art & Colors: Bruno Hidalgo
Color Assists: James Peñafiel
Letters: Sal Cipriano
Publisher: Starburns Industries Press
“Gryffen” has, to date, been a most entertaining comic, but it’s been a meaningful one as well. Kahn’s irreverent dialogue and plotting, Hidalgo’s blocky, grotesque art and Cipriano’s stylish lettering have all contributed to a goofy, gritty story that balances wish fulfillment and entertainment value in equal measure.
Part of the reason why “Gryffen” works so well is because it’s a story about a character who’s non-binary that centers their identity in the fabric of a wild space adventure. Representation matters, yes, and there are many comics that explore the nuances and realism of queer, GNC and trans lives that are powerful, funny and engaging. However, as a tired enby who doesn’t always want the collective experience regurgitated in every comic I read, or always engage with characters whose most interesting trait is their gender experience, “Gryffen” is special because it refuses to slip into confessional or revelatory territory or back down from Lyla’s identity. There’s no excessive backstory focused on the “moment they knew” or their decision to dress the way they do to sate anyone’s curiosity or discomfort, and Lyla’s gender identity isn’t presented as a trait that make them special or above reproach. Rather, it’s part of what makes them who they are in the larger story context. It’s one amidst a sea of motivations for their struggle and their drive, and they have the personality and willpower to unleash quite a bit of chaos (and carnality) in this universe. There are subtleties and freedoms here that cis folks might not pick up on but won’t hamper their enjoyment or edification, and they feel like gems that aren’t hidden or relegated to subtext for the rest of us.
This is not a statement designed to smooth the edges of gender exploration in comics, nor a directive to code our identities for a wider audience. Merely, this is a note that “Gryffen” is a damn good road map for anyone who wants to push the limits of what representation means while telling a fun and effective story.
Lyla’s gender is a character trait that neither hampers nor enhances their badassery, and their badassery is not carte blanche for their shitty behavior. Lyla’s not particularly nice, nor are they considered in their actions (see: the punching,) and issue #9 delivers some consequences for those flaws and the series-long deceit. Kahn allows Lyla to fully inhabit their complete self, and that makes for a flawed protagonist who’s abrasive, annoying, inspiring, funny, intelligent and, above all, compelling.
“Gryffen” succeeds because of Kahn and Hidalgo’s imagination and audacity. Hidalgo’s never afraid to go bloody, gooey, spitty or just plain gross to add some edge to the visuals, and the grotesque splaying of limbs and contortions of faces help set an absurd tone. Hidalgo pairs these over-the-top details with a sensuous appreciation of characters’ lips, eyes and limbs in close-up panels and quieter moments. Various feminine and masculine traits are present in each character, and they’re never arbitrary. Similarly, Hidalgo’s color palette really amps up the viscera and zaniness in “Gryffen,” but there’s a considered quality that helps everything cohere. The wry panel featuring Lyla playing a violin features a burnished brown for the instrument that immediately draws our eye and sells the joke when we realize what’s going on. It’s the focal point on the page, and the distinct color choice works.
Cipriano’s lettering has a lot of style, from font choice to irregular balloons and beefy, cheerful sound effects. Hidalgo’s line demands a sharp, craggy font and Cipriano delivers. Cipriano doesn’t waste a lick of space on the page, and that economy adds to the surreality of it all without hampering readability.
“Gryffen” posits not just a protagonist but a universe of freedom in thought, love, politics and imagination, and that texture is baked into both concept and execution. “Gryffen” #9 is the latest in pulp pleasure from this creative team, and we’re on the brink of what promises to be a memorable conclusion.
The Verdict: 8.5/10 – “Gryffen: Galaxy’s Most Wanted” #9 gives us the cliffhanger we deserve and maintains the book’s nuanced and entertaining approach to space opera.