The Grass Kingdom is at once a place that feels unsettlingly familiar yet strangely foreign, especially as rendered in Tyler Jenkins’ captivating water color style. Violence and the threat of violence seem to hang in the air above this blood soaked land. Robert finally begins to find peace, but it’s only a fleeting illusion, brilliantly setting the stage for the story to follow.
Written by Matt Kindt
Illustrated and Colored by Tyler Jenkins
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Following the bloody battle between townships, Robert learns that the infamous serial killer from the past might be one of their own people, and begins tearing the Kingdom apart to find them.
Some story arcs end with a dramatic “fade to black,” neatly wrapping up one storyline before launching into the next. Others end with a dissolve, transitioning slowly from one plot to another, while leaving the possibility open that things may circle back. Occasionally, story arcs are less well defined. We sense a shift in the action as a new series of events takes the story in a different direction, but things remain unsettled. The current arc doesn’t end, so much as it’s pushed aside. The focus simply shifts elsewhere.
For most of us, life isn’t lived in neatly defined story arcs. Events tend to blur together. Things aren’t neat and tidy. Resolution is elusive.
In that way, “Grass Kings” is realistic as hell.
Ostensibly, the first arc of the story climaxed with the violent clash between the Grass Kingdom itself and the neighboring town of Cargill. Things had been simmering all along and eventually they simply boiled over. Shots were fired, blood was spilled, tear gas rained down, a stand-off ensued and eventually the combatants dispersed – living to fight another day, it would seem.
On its face, that certainly seems like the natural end of the first story arc, but in retrospect, the six issues thus far almost feel like more of a prelude than the start of the story. Warring militias aside, the real story boils down to a man haunted by the loss of his daughter, trying to do whatever he can to fill the hole left in his life. Yes, there is bloodshed and violence (and some kick ass illustrations of Robert on horseback wearing a gas mask and wielding an automatic rifle like a post- apocalyptic knight), but it all seems more like context than a major plot line. Violence and the threat of violence are never far away, but there is an underlying melancholy that infuses everything.
A huge part of that, of course, is Tyler Jenkin’s brilliant artwork. His loose, spontaneous lines and watery pastel colors give even the most violent scenes an almost wistful, dreamlike quality. Panels flow from one to the next organically, as though someone just sketched them out only moments ago. Or were they found in your grandfather’s trunk, in corner of the attic, on yellowed water color paper…? It’s that sort of fresh-yet-faded aesthetic (childlike on the one hand, often violent on the other) that helps us feel the constant pangs of Robert’s loss.
And that’s exactly the weird dynamic of life in the Grass Kingdom. At times, it can be idyllic. “A kingdom of ideals. Livin’ in relative peace. Treatin’ each other with respect and dignity. Keeping the barbarians at the gate,” as Bruce tells us at the end of the issue, but there is always a dark underside; an unsettling history of murder and mayhem soaked into the very soil (as evidenced in numerous brilliantly rendered flashbacks throughout the six issues).
Ironically, as the first arc comes to a close, Robert seems to have found the peace that he’s so desperately longed for. We readers know, however, it’s all but a fleeting illusion. In fact, his deepest fears may be right – and he may have been right all along.
As a writer and storyteller, Matt Kindt certainly knows what he’s doing. He’s proven that time and again. So far, Kindt’s writing has been fine, but not extraordinary. Tyler Jenkins’ artwork has been the centerpiece from the start, dazzling fans and newcomers alike with his gorgeous, atypical (for comic books) style. It will be interesting going forward, as things seem to shift away from bloodshed and violence to a more internal, psychological story, how Jenkins’ lush pages and panels shape the narrative.Continued below
Honestly, as noted above, the Jenkins’ painterly style has never been particularly well suited to the book’s action sequences. With soft colors and rounded edges, the scenes can’t help but lose their punch. Given this intentional mismatch, it’s always felt like to me there was something else afoot, other creative choices secretly shaping the story, like the overt violence was a sort of red herring. As the first arc comes to a close and our focus slowly transitions to a different story line (while the other story line continues to percolate somewhere in the background), it feels like the writing and the artwork are beginning to fuse. The long prelude is over. The real story is about to begin.
Final Verdict: 7.7 This has always been Robert’s story, despite the Grass Kingdom’s blood soaked history and current tensions. Writer Matt Kindt seems about to shift the focus from the external to a rich inner story, perhaps providing an even better vehicle for Tyler Jenkins’ incredible artwork.