In Review: Groo: Play of the Gods #1

Funny and thoughtful all ages reading that will have you heaping praises on each contributor. Highest possible recommendation.

The cover: Groo has gone where no wanderer has before, into the heavens to meet the gods! In a neat change from the established norm, Groo is the giant and the gods are tiny! Take that Ray Harryhausen! He’s accompanied by his dotty dog who’s also giant sized. Both look puzzled at the wee deities that surround them, with the most important god to the story, Diothos, on Groo’s nose. This cover introduces the title character to the reader and surrounds him with those in the subtitle. As always, a terrific cover from creator Sergio Aragonés. Overall grade: A+

The story: This four issue saga opens with Groo and Rufferto in the rain, with the less intelligent of the pair hungry. Groo decides, wisely when confronted with a choice, to venture into an inn for refuge. The place is packed and everyone is eating, drinking, and telling tales of the stupidity of Groo. Naturally one worker jinxes things by turning to a co-worker to say, “We are lucky Groo never comes this way!” Causing the peer to respond, “That man who just came in with dog…that could not be…” and the room goes silent as all turn to the door. The room is empties in one panel. Rufferto thinks, ‘Yes, Groo, I believe your reputation has preceded you here! Let us eat!’ As the pair begin their feast, word reaches the Queen of Iberza, Isaisa, that the kingdom is being overrun by strangers, who “…bring with them their beliefs, quite unlike ours.” They are coming because Groo drove them to leave their lands. The clerics are charged with dealing with the nonbelievers and Groo, in the unlikely event that he ever comes by. This story, conceived by Sergio Aragonés and wordsmithed by Mark Evanier, has Groo getting into his typical clueless chaos, with Rufferto trying to keep his master clear of harm, also goes into some sly observation on human behavior with two groups of characters: the clerics and the gods. This is not a preachy tale (no pun intended) by any means, but it does show how those with extreme views fall into pitfalls because of their beliefs. The clerics symbolize those who have no tolerance of others’ faiths, while the gods chastise Diothos for his followers’ actions. Diothos defends himself by stating, “I made no selfish decree(s).” As the gods argue over what their believers should do, one god, Megatheos, states “Again, this is like a bad play!” Thus the title comes to light. This series, with some extremely funny scenes and lines, subtly addresses how extreme beliefs cause harm to others. Insight that will have you laughing and doing what Groo cannot — think. Overall grade: A+

The art: Plenty of praise has been written about Sergio Aragonés’s art, but let’s add to it. The opening two pages have the two protagonists in the rain. It’s apparent that rather than use a computer, Aragonés has hand drawn every drop of rain — and these are not straight lines, from the top to the bottom of the panel, but irregular dashes that more closely resemble the actual fall of rain. Look how every panel has an animal hiding from the rain or enjoying the downpour; it would be much easier to just draw the leads, but by adding the animals it makes the world Groo inhabits more real. And Aragonés does something I’ve not seen him do before: three full page back-to-back splashes, set in the same location, from the same angle, but jaw droppingly detailed and containing tremendous action. Page 3 shows the inn packed with people, eating, drinking, laughing, etc., but this isn’t all. There are animals partaking and watching, the architecture impressive, and the details in the mugs, meals, food exemplary. Had Aragonés just had this one page, it would have been enough to demonstrate he’s a master, but he shows the same location on Page 4, with the customers focused on Groo. He had to draw the same characters, in the different positions, reacting. Again, a computer would have helped, but he’s hand drawn the entire page. It staggers the mind. And on Page 5 he has the same location, just with all the customers gone, leaving Groo and Rufferto to enter. Again, furniture in the same place, with some overturned, but the items and animals that were on the floor on Page 3 are still there. These are mind blowing visuals that make the joke epic.  I especially like how there’s an animal at the bottom of the page who has a resemblance to a character that Evanier has had some experience writing. Every page has something that will cause the eye to focus, but two sets of characters are visual treats: the clerics and the gods. The clerics have some stunning spiral work done on their clothes that would drive most artists to insanity. The gods are representative of every culture in Earth’s past, though not specific enough to be one deity. One could say that this one is Hindu or that one Egyptian, but they are a conglomeration or interpretation of gods, enough to keep Aragonés from offending those ancient ones. The book ends with Groo about to board a particular mode of transportation that has me relishing what the visuals will entail next month. Overall grade: A+

The colors: John Ercek and Tom Luth make this book beautiful. In the rain, Groo and Rufferto are given their usual bright colors, while the creatures and the setting are given darker colors to create a rainy environment. Check out the final panel on Page 2, with the lanterns outside the inn given a warm glow of colors, providing a beacon for Groo. The colors on 3 and 4 are incredible. None of the characters are given bright colors that would make the characters appear to be nobility, but they have slightly dulled colors, suggesting the working class. Even with the customers out of the environment, on Page 5, look how colorful the room remains with just the furniture and the debris. Bright colors explode off the page with the reds on the royals and clerics of Iberza. The yellows on the clerics’ clothes are especially eye catching. When Captain Ahax appears before Queen Isaisa, violets are added to her chambers, increasing the royal tone of the scene. The gods are shown existing in pink and white clouds, giving them an ethereal feel, and the gods themselves contain every possible color, with the goddess whose hair is a rainbow wonderful. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Narration and dialogue (the same font), sounds, and yells are Stan Sakai’s contributions to this issue. His work is crisp and clean, with some words italicized to allow the reader to better hear a character’s emphasis in their speech. The sounds that Groo makes, off panel, as he eats are appropriately grotesque, but my favorite sound of the issue would be a character who has a hand thrown over his mouth to discontinue his speech. Just saying MPLPH! aloud is funny. Given the ending of this installment, the next issue’s locale looks to have more sounds for Sakai to create. Overall grade: A+

The final line: Thank heaven for Sergio Aragones’s Groo and the continuing adventures of this clueless character. Funny and thoughtful all ages reading that will have you heaping praises on each contributor. Highest possible recommendation of the week. Overall grade: A+

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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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