JCM Berne brings his superhero space opera down to Earth in Return of the Griffin, the second installment in his Hybrid Helix trilogy.
As the hybrid son of a human mother and alien il’Drach father, Rohan is born with a range of extraordinary abilities including super strength, toughness, and the power to fly, making him one of the most formidable forces in the known universe. However, Rohan would rather live a peaceful life as a Tow Chief Second Class on the sentient space station, Wistful.
Rohan reconsiders his retirement from superhero duties as a crisis on Earth threatens the extinction of humankind. Rohan returns to his home planet after a ten-year hiatus, reassuming his superhero persona as the Griffin. He joins forces with a ragtag group of heroes devoted to saving Earth from an unlikely lineup of villains including ten-kiloton land sharks and anthropomorphized cephalopods.
Beyond these over-the-top animal antagonists, Return of the Griffin also features a cutting parody of ultra-right wing political extremists, a group of “pale men with long beards [who] wore shirts printed with Humans First and red hats that read Make Earth Great Again.” These self-described Proud Guys believe that the land sharks are not an existential threat to humanity, but rather a conspiracy invented by liberal corporations. The spot-on satire of Trumpian politics is the most hilarious part of this genuinely funny book, making me laugh out loud several times.
Unfortunately, most of the supporting cast from the first book, Wistful Ascending, are jettisoned in Return of the Griffin, which introduces a new set of side characters who are not as well developed. I found myself missing many of the friends I had made in the first book.
On the positive side, JCM Berne improves the pacing and flow of his story in Return of the Griffin, delivering more consistently fast-paced action throughout the novel. Berne wisely chooses to forgo the coffee breaks which interrupted the flow of his previous book.
Return of the Griffin is a lot of fun, and it also does a commendable job depicting Rohan’s internal struggles as he faces family and friends from his past life. After running away for ten years, he continues to make questionable decisions upon his return to Earth and must deal with the inevitable consequences. Nevertheless, the downside of the book’s overtly humorous tone is that it doesn’t plumb the same level of dark emotional depth as in the latter part of Wistful Ascending.
As a whole, Return of the Griffin works most effectively as a satire, delivering on its promise of a witty, action-packed story with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.