New To You Comics #70: Searching For The Thin-Air Killer In ‘Grass Kings’ Vol. 2
by Brendan M. Allen
Tony and Brendan have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. Brendan tends to stick to horror, noir, pro wrestling, and weird indies. Occasionally, their paths cross, but like most readers, they tend to stay in their own lanes.
New To You Comics is here to break up the pattern a little. Tony will throw some of his favorites at Brendan, and Brendan will hit Tony with some of his. Every NTYC title is brand new to one of them. Every once in a while a title will land with both of them. Most of the time they can find some common ground, but even when they don’t, it’s fun to watch them go at it. Brendan fights dirty. Tony kicks like a mule.
This week, the boys go back to the Grass Kingdom to sort out more of BOOM! Studios’ hillbilly secessionist murder mystery with Grass Kings Vol. 2, by Matt Kindt, Tyler Jenkins, and Hillary Jenkins. Here’s what BOOM! Tells us about the book:
‘The next chapter in the lives of the Grass Kings—three brothers who rule their own trailer park kingdom outside of the laws of man—begins not with a whimper, but with a bang, as Robert uproots the community in search of the long-fabled serial killer. With paranoia setting in, Bruce and Ashur must decide if their brother is still fit to lead.
Written by Matt Kindt and beautifully illustrated by Tyler Jenkins, Grass Kings Volume Two continues the critically acclaimed rural mystery series that explores the binding legacies of love and loss.’
Brendan Allen: If you remember where we left off in the first volume of Grass Kings, the delicate balance between the town of Cargill and the Grass Kingdom almost dissolved in a storm of bullets and tear gas. As the last arc closed, Bruce went to Cargill behind King Robert’s back to meet with Sheriff Humbert and redirect some of the blowback.
During their clandestine meeting, Sheriff Humbert planted an idea that niggled at Bruce. Robert’s convinced that a serial killer dubbed “The Thin-Air Killer” had a hand in his daughter’s disappearance. Humbert confirms to Bruce that all of the evidence Humbert had at the time pointed to one of the residents of Grass Kingdom as the killer.
That opens up a whole new can, as now Robert starts to look within the walls of Grass Kingdom, opening decades-old wounds. The first arc was fantastic, but this is where the thing really starts to open up for me. So many layers. So much deception. So much weird backwoods shit.
Tony Thornley: This was a really different tone than that first volume, almost to the point that I wondered if I was recalling the right book. It’s a cool switchup. It really is an almost different story with all the same characters and setting. If it wasn’t following-up on a lot of threads from that previous volume, I would say it really was a completely separate story.
That’s a testament to Kindt’s writing for sure.
Brendan: There’s something really cool about how Kindt built this thing. The first arc was all about the conflict between Cargill and the Kingdom. All the elements of a great feud between a rural government and a secessionist principality are there, and then Bruce’s betrayal splits the thing wide open.
Kindt slyly planted seeds in the first six chapters that begin to show fruit here in the second act. It was easy enough in early chapters to get sucked into the looming battle, not realizing where we were being led. Now, backstories on several of the key players lend critical insight to the bigger picture.
Tony: Yeah. This volume feels more like a noir mystery, and that leads to some really interesting character pieces. Characters that weren’t much more than window dressing in the previous volume are given richer and fuller stories. It’s really cool.
Then you also get an actual investigation. While Kindt weaves through the comics standard of character spotlights, he actually makes the investigation really interesting, even using a variety of characters to do it. Then in an absolutely brutal twist, there’s a detail added at the end… This is not your usual detective story and it’s stronger for that.
Brendan: Right? There are also plenty of interesting and credible suspects.
Pike, with his romantic ties to the victim. Humbert with his well-documented violent streak. Hemingway. Obsessed with true crime. Writes a book about it. There are several cases of authors publishing clues to their actual murders. Nancy Crampton Brophy, Liu Yongbiao, Blake Liebel, Richard Klinkhamer, Krystian Bala…
The guy with a small arsenal on the island. Archie, Bruce, Baron, King Robert himself. Part of the reason the Kingdom was founded in the first place was to escape from the past. Every subject has something ugly in their personal history.
Tony: I’d dare say this might be the best thing of Kindt’s I’ve read? After this story, I really just want to see him do stories like this.
Brendan: The band gets back together in Black Badge (Matt Kindt and Los Jenkins), which I don’t hold quite as highly as Grass Kings, but some of the elements carry over.
Brendan: I think I mentioned last time how much I love Tyler Jenkins’ art, with his loose pencils and beautiful watercolor palette. His style is deceptively simple. There’s an almost impressionist quality to the images, but somehow there’s just enough detail and expression in these panels to pound this sucker home.
I think it was chapter eight where Hilary Jenkins took over on the paint, and the transition is barely noticeable, which is awesome.
Tony: Yeah, I like his really loose style. It’s not so loose that it’s impressionist or abstract, but it creates a specific mood. It’s almost dreamy, but what’s happening is so grounded that it doesn’t make it surreal. His depiction of the murder victim- the Kingdom’s beloved teacher- is the most grounded thing about his line art the entire story, which makes her feel even more real, despite the fact that she was years gone.
And her watercolor paintings over his art… Boom! should have published this as illustrated prose instead just so I could sit there and look at it. It’s just a gorgeous book.
Brendan: This is one of my all time favorites. Sounds like it landed with you, too. I’m going to go ahead and throw Volume 3 into the queue.
Tony: Yeah, it worked really well. I think I liked this volume way better than the first.
Brendan: I’ll be off on a much needed holiday next week, but I know you have something planned in my absence. Which book will you be covering, and who will be sitting in my chair next Tuesday?
Tony: Scott Redmond’s going to be returning and sitting in. We’re actually going to be checking out a book I haven’t read yet but have wanted to for a while- Al Ewing and Lee Garbett’s Loki: Agent of Asgard! I figure Loki’s a movie star, it’s about time, no?