Kriss: The Gift of Wrath
by Ted Naifeh
Art by Warren Wucinich
Oni Press, 2019
This graphic novel is the perfect gift for a middle school child of 11 – 12 who is getting into experiencing adolescent angst, heavy metal, Goth culture, and fantasy fiction. The story is a time-worn one: a young orphan and outsider, Kriss, the son of a vanished king, is raised among incurious Medieval village folk and must come into his own. Black haired, pale, and running around in torn black clothing, he discovers the power of three supernatural beings — Borgir the Blood Drinker, Erikk the Dark King, and Tove the Mistress of Sabrecats, and suspects Erikk is his father.
My inner 11-year-old enjoyed this a lot, but even she became tired of the three-times-you’re-out trope: Kriss is betrayed not once, but twice, by the villagers and/or the local Duke, and against all common sense, sets himself up for a third betrayal, after he is strung up and whipped. Like the Incredible Hulk, he explodes in white-hot rage, takes revenge, and goes into exile in search of his heritage. He leaves his childhood sweetie behind, who is now pregnant with the odious Duke’s child, another betrayal.
It sounds like every anime ever created, but there’s a reason for that — it’s readable, even if I wasn’t too happy with the yearning naivete of the hero and the obvious hostility of the villagers.
I thought the illustrations were perhaps stronger than the story. They were the sort of thing that would appeal to a middle schooler, and also the sort of thing they might doodle themselves — but imbued with an adult’s sophistication, no small feat on the part of artist Warren Wucinich. I had lots of fun drawing analogies from it to the 1970s costuming of the rock group KISS, to Gwar, to Northwest Coast Indian art.
Unfortunately Kriss, though intended to be a series, seems to be a one-off at this point, so it’s anyone’s guess where the story will go.