Grip: The Strange World of Men by Gilbert Hernandez
Gilbert Hernandez is one of my favorite writers and one of my favorite artists, so I love getting a chance to read anything by him. Grip: The Strange World of Men, as the subtitle suggests, is one of his strangest tales, and I’m a little stumped on what aspects of the plot to include in this review: I don’t want to spoil the fun of the surprises. First of all, Grip is a neo-pulp style work, blending three popular pulp genres: Noir-Mystery, Science Fiction, and Horror. The plot, however, might require two readings since it’s not as straight-forward as most fiction (in comics, novels, or movies).
The element of mystery is apparent from the beginning: The first few images of the graphic novel won’t even make sense fully until the reader gets to the last few pages of the book. To add to the mystery, the first time we meet our main character, Mike Chang, he doesn’t even know who he is, where he came from, where he is, or how he got the lipstick kiss on his cheek. We don’t have time to worry about his identity too much — nor does he — because the action starts right away based on everybody else seeming to recognize him. Some of that recognition is good; some of it is not so desirable, since some of those people are so angry, they want to kill him. Guns are frequently being turned on others only to have the guns taken away or turned on the unsuspecting at the last moment. Honestly, it’s almost impossible to guess what is going to happen from one frame to the next in Grip.
Why do I love Grip? First of all, I love Hernandez’s artwork. I’m not sure how best describe the simplicity with which he draws, because even though it is simple, it is unique and captures the nuances of emotion his characters feel. His depictions of wiser-than-their-years children is perhaps a trademark skill seen in all his works. Hernandez’s children always seem to know more than adults do. In Grip, that’s the young girl Echo, who seems not only to be wise, but also world-weary in her reacting with no surprise to the horror around her.
Without giving away the plot, I’ll merely mention some characters and some scenes, as well as some random elements in the book. First, the characters are fantastic, from the dazed main character to his selfish best friend Joe Hook, from the crime lords the Overboys to the crime-fighting team the Mystery Girls, and from the young girl Echo in the present to other children depicted in the flashbacks we see of Mike’s younger years. The locales are just as varied as the characters: bunkers, secret facilities for medical experiments, strip-clubs, secluded mansions, the mean streets of the city, the beach, and I can’t even remember where else. Finally, there are elements that come together in ways that shouldn’t work but do: The horror of a person able to shed skin and walk around and put on another person’s skin; the ability to mind-control others; people living inside other people physically and mentally in multiple ways; the possibility that cult groups have leaders even more charismatic than we might have feared; the doubts we have about whether the adults are parents to children or children parents to all adults around them; and the hope that all can be put right again and justice can be found, even while that justice is more unsettling than it is a relief.
So, have I been enigmatic enough in describing this book? I know I haven’t given anything away, but I hope I’ve enticed you enough to check it out, though if you are new to Gilbert Hernandez, you might want to start off with something a little lighter, perhaps The Adventures of Venus, available on Comixology. But if you want to tackle the crazier side of Hernandez — and all the violence that comes along with it — then check out Grip: The Strange World of Men. I promise you have never read anything like it, and you will never forget it if you do read it. I can’t give Grip anything less than five stars.