Spring is upon us (at least in the northern hemisphere), meaning that summer is just around the corner. Popsicles, sunshine, bliss, jean shorts, fun and flirtations — that’s the promise of spring and summer. “Grim” #1 is a far cry from any of that, and instead opens in the biting cold on an icy road with a dude looking over his own corpse as Jessica Harlow, a reaper, ushers his whining spirit to the underworld. The story feels like the opposite of spring frivolity, but “Grim” #1 actually manages to be funny, emphatic, emotional, and conceptually intriguing enough to pull is into the underworld and keep us there. Minor spoilers may follow.
Written by Stephanie Phillips
Illustrated by Flaviano
Colored by Rico Renzi
Lettered by Tom Napolitano
Reviewed by Kobi Bordoley
Jessica Harrow is dead. But her journey has only just begun! Discover the world of the afterlife, where Jessica has been recruited as a Reaper, tasked with ferrying countless souls to their final destination. But unlike the rest of the Reapers, she has no memory of what killed her and put her into this predicament. In order to unravel the mystery of her own demise, she’ll have to solve an even bigger one – where is the actual GRIM REAPER?
“Grim” #1 succeeds first and foremost on a plot level, and then on a conceptual level, and finally on an artistic level as well. As for the plot, “Grim” #1 starts in the action, with the aforementioned dude (named Bryan) lamenting that he must be in some kind of drunken fever dream having an out of body experience, until he stumbles upon his body, confused, sad, and angry. Truth be told, Bryan is a little bit annoying but has good quips and is pretty funny, establishing that he’s more than a throwaway character, and that “Grim” #1 is the kind of story that will treat its downtrodden with kindness and intrigue. Really, every character in this story shines. We’re also suckers for well placed Blue Öyster Cult references, so if you’re interested for on-the-nose yet righteous insertions of Don’t Fear the Reaper lyrics, then you’ll love the way “Grim #1” opens. All our times have come…
Anyways, once Bryan stumbles around for a little while, we’re introduced to Jessica Harlow, an effigy of death, scythe wielding and all, who lets him know that she’ll be ushering him to the other side. Harrow’s look is both timeless yet novel. Her general body shape and vibe is very reminiscent of the classic Death from Gaiman’s Sandman (more on this later), but she is a little more androgynous and Bushiwckified Gaiman’s iteration. We won’t give too much away, but soon after we get a pretty comedic look at death’s waiting room, and what appears to be the breakroom for other Reapers. This is one of the best parts of “Grim” #1, and it’s a bit reminiscent of the “scare floor” in Monster’s Inc., if you’ll excuse the comparison. We get to see different iterations of human representations of death from different eras and different cultures schmoozing, talking about their most recent liaisons with the recently departed. There’s humor and worldbuilding galore here, and we love to see it. Things turn up significantly from there when something as banal as a misplaced reaping scythe leads to high stakes and life altering implications. We still don’t know all the rules of “Grim #1” but we’re bought in enough to give chase when the main characters go off running.
Plot and concept go hand in hand, and on its face, “Grim” #1 doesn’t have the most novel premise. Since Sandman (and likely before), personifications of Death in comics are almost a trope unto themselves — one of Webtoon’s most well-known comics, “I’m the Grim Reaper,” for example, follows a very similar thread to “Grim” #1. The trope is tried and true, but has to be executed (no pun intended) quite well to stand out. This is the crux of “Grim” #1 — does the concept feel fresh and exciting enough to warrant covering old ground? We say in a resounding voice: yes, it does. “Grim” #1 succeeds conceptually because its characters rise above their station. Bryan isn’t just a victim to the needs of an inciting incident, and has his own story. Jessica Harrow feels more rounded and deep than your ordinary afterlife civil servant. Everyone in “Grim” #1 feels potent, full of latent energy and meaning.Continued below
Finally, let’s talk about the art and colors, which really tie “Grim” #1 together. As alluded to above, the character designs in “Grim” #1 are very strong. Harrow’s facial expressions are especially well rendered. Flaviano knows how to capture characters in a mixture of realism and impressionism that exemplifies the power of the comic form — it’s ability to show things in crystal clear detail when necessary, while eschewing normal rules of anatomy, perspective, and so on when necessary. “Grim” #1 is nimbly drawn, and there are no awkward panels or illegible action sequences. Even when we’re flying down the River Styx, “Grim” #1 keeps an even keel. The landscapes and locations in “Grim” #1 are also cleanly drawn and distinguishable from one another. Death’s waiting room is especially well done, and a pleasure to look at. Renzi’s colors also stand out, and the juxtaposition between the blue-gray, cold colors of terrestrial melancholy stand stark against the golden light of the afterlife. Harrow’s red and black outfit is also distinctive, and we see early on that red and black are recurring motifs for the reapers and death. Overall, the colors in “Grim” #1 are well saturated and more faded when they need to be, and things just seem blended perfectly.
No comic is perfect, but in terms of first issues, “Grim” #1 has nearly everything going for it. “Grim” #1 ends at the perfect moment, and we’re so excited to pick this up when the second issue drops. Definitely add this one to your pull list.
Final Verdict: 9.2. Deftly written and beautifully illustrated, “Grim” #1 carves out its own space in a cluttered subgenre.