Grim #1 presents a world where death’s been outsourced. Sure, oblique refences are made to a capital “D” death, the reigning lord of the underworld. But no one’s ever seen or met him. Most of the work is left to human souls, each handed a scythe and asked to guide the dearly departed. So, a job, in other words. Writer Stephanie Phillips, artist Flaviano, colorist Rico Renzi and letterer Tom Napolitano work together to tell the story of a woman all too tired of working in their vision of the afterlife. Though her mundane un-life is about to hit a few speedbumps.
Stephanie Phillips wastes no time setting up the world of the comic, opening on a ordinary-looking man stumbling upon his own corpse. He’s dead, and his spirit’s guide to the Hereafter is a woman named Jessica Harrow – an unenthusiastic Grim Reaper. Though, instead of cutting down souls with her impressive scythe, Harrow’s role is to ferry souls over the River Styx and into a purgatory-like dimension. A cosmic waiting room where souls await judgement. But her escort won’t go quietly, and steals Harrows scythe so he can escape back into the world of the living. The resulting chase leaves Harrow questioning what she knows about the laws of the Afterlife.
This issue serves to ease readers into Grim‘s premise, Jessica acting as the reader’s guide as much as the unfortunate ghost’s. But she’s a brusque, bitter guide, so don’t expect her to lay out much beyond the basics. It’s a deft way to show Jessica’s character while giving out necessary exposition. Her job may be tied to one of the most enduring questions of human existence, but that doesn’t mean she has to like questions.
Counter to what you’d expect in a book starring ghosts, Flaviano provides solid and weighty figure-work. Metacarpal bones are faintly visible when the wayward ghost cups a hand over his mouth in shock. The wrinkles and folds on his jacket are all carefully, consistently rendered. It’s colorist Rico Renzi’s stark reds and blues that cement the book in the realm of the supernatural, even during scenes set on earth. As Jessica chases a spirit in the opening pages, her presence periodically changes the background from ghostly blue to deep red, establishing the book’s use of red with death and the reapers. The effect isn’t a tug-of-war between mundane reality and the spirit realm. It’s a struggle between two different kinds of spirits. This is an issue squarely focused on the dead, after all. But we’ll see how much that continues into the future.
Flaviano’s character designs also deserve special mention. Jessica Harrow’s design has already gotten a lot of traction prior to the book’s release, and her co-workers live up to that standard. The reapers all wear outfits of pure red and black, each offering clues to the era the character was born in. One wears a glam-rock fishnet shirt and go-go boots, while another wears an old-fashioned suit and trench coat. These are all fun to look at, and add the kind of immediate visual appeal that gets people to grab a book off the shelf. A cool-looking character can go a long way. This book has an entire realm of them.
Letterer Tom Napolitano gets to show off at several points in the book, especially in a protracted opening sequence where lyrics to “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Öyster Cult appear in handwritten letters that gently waver up and down, towards and away from the reader. Hades tears open with a shaky “KRAAAAAAK,” while Jessica is greeted in purgatory with elegant, gold letters. They all fit perfectly into the book’s exercises in tone.
Grim bursts out of the gate with an issue as cool and confident as Harrow herself. It’s worth getting onboard this series at the ground floor, so pick it up when it hits the stands from Boom! Studios tomorrow on 05/11.