THIS REVIEW OF GRIP OF THE KOMBINAT CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Kate Kowalski. Live to work, work to live… gone may be the days of getting to make a choice with the latter option, reserved only for the privileged few. Now is the time of hustle culture, the gig economy, and a disparate wealth distribution the likes of which haven’t been seen since the French spring of 1789. Many fear society’s rapid plunge into corporate oligarchy and a sort of digital neo-feudalism while many have accepted we’re already there.
So why not take a tongue-in-cheek look at our shiny, bright new future? Grip of the Kombinat offers a glimpse into a post-terrestrial reality where corporations rule the land backed by their own high-tech weaponry and cyber-modified militias. The story is split into interwoven vignettes highlighting different corners of the conquered galaxy from a far flung asteroid to the inner workings of our main conglomerate, Peerless Universal Kombinat, or PUK.
These tales range from an eco-activist heist to a jailbreak scheme to a robot revolution with plenty of twists and kinks along the way. (I do mean kinks in all senses of the word—there’s some pretty twisted stuff in here.) Despite the disconnected nature of its vignette-quilted story Kombinat feels cohesively plotted and carefully planned; we’re thrust right into the action and are caught up on this world’s elaborate and detailed histories as we go. Each morsel of backstory is delivered just as we need it.
Grip of the Kombinat adds its own fresh bits and flourishes to the deck of sci-fi standards, particularly in the characterization of robots and their relations to humans, which feels original and refreshing. No mechanized overlords here, just oddly shaped little guys who steal the show and perhaps even pull at your heartstrings—though, as we learn, one should never underestimate them. The book’s Kickstarter page described the project as a “pulpy sci-fi adventure, escalating unintended consequences leading to catastrophe, wry satire, and pure dumbass goofery all come together.” As such, Grip of the Kombinat is born of “yes, and’s,” which means nothing is off limits.
These pages are filled with the absurd. Satire is the strongest driving force here, casting a harsh light on the potential insanity we could so easily slip into as a society while being funny and just off-the-wall bonkers. In one jam-packed book we have cowboy-hat-wearing senators on the company payroll, gripes about humans taking jobs from robots, deepfake nude simulations as ice-breakers at a corporate event, and the fate of a whole alien race being used as a bargaining chip in a property deal.
So naturally the book’s creators, Simon Roy and Damon Gentry, acknowledge Paul Verhoeven’s films as an inspiration for the book. More than one thirsty “blowbot” graces these pages as well as a particularly sensual sequence that includes a straw and a urine recycler. In the first vignette, heads are chopped off and slung around—a good reminder amongst the machinery of the human’s fragile meat-bag nature. The biggest nod to Verhoeven’s work, however, is conveyed through its visual aesthetic, and Grip of the Kombinat fits right into the retro-futuristic niche of Robocop: the outfits and uniforms the humans don are what a designer from the 80s might deem functional and forward-thinking, and the technology is advanced but might not look out of place alongside a Macintosh 128K.
What’s more, the art style of Kombinat takes clear influence from the underground comix of the 70s and alternative comix of the early 80s. With that comes a heaping helping of crass slapstick humor from the physical characterizations and onomatopoeic reactions (“Zap,” “Blap,” “Thoom,” “Aaaaaa!”) which at times pushes things gleefully over the top (“Head Lock,” “Head Butt,” “Clench!”). The constant noise running through each panel sets the pace at a frenzied speed; zigzags and squiggles fill the pages as they radiate off the characters as they endure pain, pleasure, surprise, you name it.
As for the paneling itself it remains creative throughout: simultaneous cross-section views, diagonal dividing lines, and an entire sequence dressed up newsstrip-style. The book, printed in black and white and is very precisely shaded, alternates between a soft TV static gray and scratched black lines in more tense moments. The lines on the book’s characters can also shift from a filmy gray with sharp crosshatching to opaque blocks within the span of a couple pages depending on their motivation at any given moment. The linework does a lot of emotional heavy lifting.
While the satire and style of Grip of the Kombinat is reminiscent of retro sci-fi media and bawdy comics, the content is entirely of today’s pressing issues and concerns. What else can we do but enjoy this while our corporate overlords decide our fate? Before meandering the MetaVerse becomes the new national pastime, we can have a laugh and lose ourselves in an energizing comic about the sheer outrageousness of our rapid descent into whatever comes next.
Image Comics / $16.99
Written by Simon Roy & Damon Gentry.
Art by Simon Roy & Damon Gentry.