In Review: Groo: Friends and Foes #11

This is what comics aspire to be. Highest possible recommendation.

The cover: Groo is doing what Groo does best, killing, while his friend the Minstrel is playing a tune to inspire him in his fraying, while the wanderer’s loyal dog Rufferto smiles as he bites one of his master’s foes. It’s not often that Groo is shown with such unabashed joy on his face and it’s nice to see creator/artist Sergio Aragones giving his most famous creation a light moment. Granted, it’s while he’s killing people, but, hey, that’s Groo. The details are, as always, incredible, with some slick work done on the spinning soldier’s shield and all the helmets on his opponents. The Minstrel also has another unique topping on his instrument. The colors are by Tom Luth, and the yellow background makes this illustration seem alive. Well, more alive than Groo’s foes are. Wonderful work. Overall grade: A+

The story: Once again Mark Evanier wordsmiths Sergio Aragones’s tale, and once again it’s really good. The issue opens as all in this series has, with the Minstrel singing of his exploits with Groo. This time the song is having the opposite effects of what it’s done in previous issues: people are terrified by what’s he saying instead of laughing uproariously — and not because he’s mentioning Groo. It turns out that the singer has arrived in a kingdom where all music has been allowed; have these people never seen Footloose? Taken before the king, he is told by the ruler that this law has been created because “I associate singing with an unpleasant event in my life! This is all the explanation I am going to give you or anyone!” The Minstrel is allowed to leave with a warning, however, “If you are about to sing your thanks to me, I will have you flung into my dungeon!” Dejected, he makes his way through the city. “Not far off…” Groo and Rufferto come upon a caravan and join it in the hopes they are going to where food is. A small child sees the wanderer and asks his father if the man who just joined them is Groo. Taking a worried look at Groo, the father smiles and says, “It could not possibly be Groo! We are still all alive!” That’s when the trouble begins. Meanwhile, back in the music-less kingdom, Kayli has arrived and meets the Minstrel. His reaction to seeing her is not what she expected. On Page 9 the Minstrel meets some compatriots and a terrible plan is hatched. Starting on 13 a sequence begins that will be every music teacher’s nightmare. but will make everyone else laugh. The king is no dummy in this issue and has an evil plan, which has the book ending with a double cliffhanger, which is a first for this series. Aragones and Evanier are really leaving their fans in suspense for this penultimate issue, and it’s wonderful. Overall grade: A+

The art: Spectacularly detailed work again flows from Sergio Aragones’s hand onto the page in this outing. The first page featuring the Minstrel’s song again contains a lavish summary of his tale, and in every single teeny tiny illustration of this the headstock of his guitar has a different topping — at no time is there a repeat. This continues throughout the book. One could get their money’s worth in the visuals from this issue just looking at the changing top of his musical instrument, though there is so much more to enjoy. Look at the the locals looking at the Minstrel: look at what they’re carrying and doing, and look at the puddle of frogs at the bottom reacting in fear. Aragones populates every inch of his work with something to look at. The bottom panel of Page 3 focuses on the sad singer, but look at all around him that makes this kingdom come to life. 5 has Groo causing his expected damage, but the chaos that happens in the center panel is wonderful (and again features tiny animals reacting to his presence). The top three panels on 13 require no text because the visual gag is drawn so well. The bottom of 17 has an army marching off to do battle; they look fantastic, the people watching them outstanding, and the setting behind them amazing. Pages 20 and 21 contain the double-paged splash that Aragones is famous for having on this series and it’s mind blowing. It’s a carnival in the center of town and I would guess there are at least one hundred fully rendered characters in the illustration — AND he includes animals and a full background setting! I get tired looking at this lush piece, there’s so much going on. Aragones is considered an illustrating icon, and his book more than proves why he’s thought to be so. Overall grade: A+ 

The colors: In addition to the story and the art, the colors make this book stand against all other comic books. It’s a breath of fresh air to come across a book so bright and bold with its colors. Tom Luth makes this book unbelievably cheery with colors that can’t help that make a reader feel upbeat looking upon them. The first page has the bold lime and mustard of the Minstrel’s garb make him stand out in the music free land, though there are excellent blues and violets to make this location a joy. The deep red curtains of the king’s throne instantly identify him as a man of power and wealth. The beautiful greens of the surroundings around the Minstrel and his fellows make their plight seem solvable. Pages 20 and 21 must have made Luth weep for the amount of time that would be needed to color those pages, but his work is just as amazing as the visual. Luth is a stunner on this issue. Overall grade: A+

The letters: The Minstrel’s songs, dialogue, sounds, screams, and yells are all brought to life by Stan Sakai (and you really should be buying his ongoing saga Usagi Yojimbo), and he does an outstanding job. I love all that he brings to this book, and I’m really going to take this to extremes; look at how he writes the lower case letter g in the Minstrel’s songs. I have no reason to explain this, but that is the coolest looking letter g I’ve seen in my life. Normally when people print, the g is given a circle and a fishhook shape to create it, but Sakai uses two circles connected with a line and a tiny line in the top circle. It’s the coolest thing ever in fonts, looking like a snowman looking to the right. Everything Sakai brings to this book is good, but that g is just sweet! Overall grade: A+

The final line: You can’t say you’ve read comics until you’ve read Groo, one of the best books ever created. Funny, gorgeous, sweet, bright, and a joy. This is what comics aspire to be. Highest possible recommendation. Overall grade: A+ 

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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