Gremlin Trouble from Anti-Ballistic Pixelations seamlessly blends high fantasy and science fiction into a speculative adventure. E.T. and Elizabeth Bryan teamed up in the late ‘90s to create a magnum opus that is thrilling, hilarious, and thought-provoking. The opening sets the mixed tone very well with “Once upon an arbitrary space-time coordinate, there was a beautiful young Stormfairy…”
This setting is the fairly-far-flung future, a time when mankind spends most of its time inside walled cities, tucked away in individual dormitories with full-immersion virtual-reality beds. With humans done rampaging nature, fairies have come out of their hiding places where they were driven after the onset of machines. This world is thusly a cross between sword-wielding elves with powerful magic and laser-wielding humans with equally powerful technology. Only one creature can stand astride of these two very different realms: the gremlin.
Anyone who has seen the popular Bugs Bunny cartoons or the fantastic films from 1984 and 1990 will be well familiar with the “gremlin,” a bothersome, usually invisible creature that disrupts machines. Gremlin Trouble elevates the gremlin to an entire green-skinned race of mad genius engineers who can make marvelous machines (and just as often make legendary catastrophes).
The story in Gremlin Trouble is that of Cypher, the Stormfairy, who loses her wings in the Chief Imp’s curse, which causes her to plummet into toxic waste, which mutates her into a gremlin. The Chief Imp mocks her, saying “no sky spirit can live for more than a month on the ground.” Yet Cypher adapts to her new life by throwing herself completely into building machines. Her genius catches the attention of humans, including the impossibly ambitious Delage, who is one of several trying to take control of the entire world through the “TJG,” a device that infects anyone who hears it on psychic level, again blending science fiction with fantasy “curses.” The growing cast battles arrogant elves, violent goblins, wizards and witches, and even immortal aliens (who, although unkillable, can be tortured effectively by transporting them back in time to every nuclear bomb test of the twentieth century over and over again).
In the midst of the epic battle for the Earth, Gremlin Trouble is also a sweet love story. Using engineering-logic, Cypher determines she can become a stormfairy once more by the kiss of a prince, and none is more kissable than the gremlin Prince Hexadecimal. Yet there are rivals for his attention, and Cypher herself begins to love her gremlin-life with Hex, although kissing him would end it.
Throughout it all, Gremlin Trouble is packed with a cunning look at the thin gray line between fantasy and science fiction (perhaps the best example of Clarke’s line, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”). The dialogue is full of quips and jokes from characters richly developed, such as Cam, the rascally old gremlin foreman. The art brilliantly juxtaposes hard mechanical lines with fluid character designs, borrowing touches from manga in its style. While there is nothing graphic in the comic, it is probably PG-13 for some wardrobe malfunctions and fan service, such as hula-girl costumes of the “Emergency ‘Request for Proposal’ Luau,” which is the best way to have a business meeting.
As a bonus, Books 1 and 5 contain short essays, Gremlore, from E.T. Bryan on the history of Gremlins. The remarkably academic study contains primary citations like Ruppelt’s Report on Unidentified Flying Objects and Time Magazine. How often can a comic include an essay, much less one that will fascinate its readers?