Talk about a bad month for old and new god relations. Besides American Gods premiering soon on Starz, a collected volume of Groo: Fray of the Gods comes out this week from Dark Horse, and Groo’s reach is extending to the heavens.
Known for stirring up trouble, Groo’s problem is he doesn’t fight for a cause. He’s not a rebel, or someone who walks into sibling rivalries by accident. Groo is not a hero, and when you’re unfamiliar with this series written by Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier, his dedication to food and fray is unparalleled. He is the guy who picks fights to slay people, the worst possible example of a noble warrior. Groo has no remorse but also no malice.
Let’s not mince words. Killing is criminal, but Groo is an anomaly. He doesn’t take war seriously. For all his talk of slaying people, everyone in his path suffers injury: bandaged noses, blackened eyes, ragged clothes. Groo may be a killer but Aragonés’ art doesn’t leave any victims, and nobody—no exceptions—reprimands Groo. That’s what really throws this whole story off. Nobody is a hero or takes up the cause of the good guys. The first mention of Groo appearing in town and people pray, retreat, or run. Without knowing what he looks like, a verbal grape vine spreads through the land, and Stan Sakai’s lettering emotes the whole while, with soft rhymes for the minstrel, sandpapered edges for the echo, and slobbering text for the defeated.
Unchallenged, Groo can never evolve, and he makes an unusual lead as consequence. Backed by his trusty dog, Rufferto, Rufferto’s not like other sidekick pets. He has a more level head than Groo. He doesn’t forget what quest they are on, or have trouble reading human emotions. In some comics, he’d be the sarcastic pup, petulant about his owner’s mistakes, but Rufferto is cut from the same cloth. Unbothered by Groo’s mixed metaphors, he’s content to share food and fray.
The battle Groo’s currently entangled with involves two brothers. Saffi is the rightful heir to the throne. Cuffi is his usurper and would-be God, who forgets that gods need to be believed in. Seeing a way to elevate his power, Cuffi doesn’t read the fine print and sets his ambitions before those who seek his aid. He’s a false God, but false Gods can become real. When a chance is given to see what the real deal are up to, with their pastel sprites riding snails in the clouds, Star God is among gods from different cultures.
Coming at religion with a trial and error mindset, Cuffi’s not embraced when he calls himself a god but, when a new town gives him another chance, Cuffi doesn’t waste time repeating himself. Altering his pitch so he is the personification of the Star God on Earth, instead of the Star God himself, a statue is erected in his image for people to worship. New gods are like phone plans – doesn’t matter if you’re old service works, you’re supposed to covet the updates – and Cuffi pushes idols to sell his religion.
With such an affinity for drawing crowd scenes, Groo: Fray of the Gods is very isolating for its characters. Parents are kept apart from their children. Jobs are divided along gender lines. Women get dumped with the daily runnings of their town. It’s the conditions of wartime but unlike Groo, who can’t remember what army he’s serving, the old gods are remembered. The question is with fondness or preference?