Saturday, January 17, 2009

Out of the Vault - The Griffin

Cover of The Griffin #1When I first began thinking about doing "Out of the Vault," I sat down and thought about what series I might like to revisit. And one of the first that leaped to mind was something called The Griffin.

The Griffin was a six-issue prestige format miniseries from DC, the same format they used for Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen. Written by Dan Vado with art by Norman Felchle and Mark McKenna, The Griffin told the story of Matt Williams, who returns to Earth 20 years after being abducted by aliens. Problem is, he's now an alien-enhanced super-soldier and a deserter, and the aliens are coming to get him back.

The Griffin was supposedly an expanded version of a comic Vado had published three issues of under his own label, Slave Labor Graphics. I was familiar with another Slave Labor title at the time (the late, lamented Hero Sandwich, which will be making its own trip out of the Vault someday, though for now it's still locked away for safekeeping), so I hoped for the same mix of action and humor when I bought the first issue of The Griffin.

I didn't get it.

The Griffin is an odd duck (so to speak). On one level, it's a superhero story, featuring people with mighty powers battling an alien invasion and each other.

I move that we dispense with the reading of the minutes and move directly to the ass-kickingOn another level, it's a space opera, with Earth facing off against an alien empire, and political factions battling for internal control as they order their forces into distant battle.

On another level, it's a straight drama about humans dealing with grief and loss and sacrifice. Matt Williams returns home twenty years after disappearing without a word, and is surprised to discover that a) everyone assumed he was dead, b) they have moved on with their lives in the meantime, and c) not everyone is jumping for joy at his return. So as he's spending 6 issues battling other super-beings and an alien invasion fleet, he's also trying to learn how to be less of a dork (with limited success). In the meantime, the supporting cast all face grief and loss in their various ways. There's a surprising amount of character development in what is ostensibly an action story.

And it should be no surprise that this development comes at the cost of the action. Unlike most action comics which try to include a major action sequence in each issue, The Griffin is arranged like a stand-up routine--set-up (issue 1), punch line (issue 2), set-up (issue 3), punch line (issue 4)... And much of the action takes place off camera, so that certain plot elements that seem as if they should be major set-pieces are resolved surprisingly quickly.

In fact, everything is resolved too quickly. The 6-issue format doesn't give the authors much time to linger on things, especially given all the elements crammed into the story.

So on the one hand, I really liked the attempt at adult drama, the huge scope of the story, the surprisingly appealing artwork of Felchle and McKenna, the awesome coloring job done by Steve Oliff and the Olyoptics crew. But I was also disappointed that the story never really seemed to hit that groove of awesomeness that was hinted at in early issues. Like Revenge of the Sith, it seemed to be in such a hurry to hit all its marks that it never seemed to settle down in the moment and really hit home. That's something for me to consider as I work on Hero Go Home.

Oh, and one other thing: although it was published in 1991, it is quite clearly a product of the 80's. The plot concerns alien abductions, an alien empire ruled by a corporate board of directors (echoing much of the cyberpunk fiction of the 80's), a shadow government infiltrating all levels of the United States (Ollie North is even called out by name at one point).

How Eighties is it?

This Eighties...

You don't want to know which elements of this outfit I used to wear in real life

Mohawk, torn T-shirt with punk slogan, spiky Mad Max shoulder pads and a Walkman. Yeah, baby. Keep feeling fascination.

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