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Gushing About Grendel

How’d I miss the news that these beauties had dropped? I stumbled across them while browsing the shelves at Midtown Comics to kill time before a movie screening last night, and somehow managed to resist the urge to purchase them on the spot… but less than twenty-four hours later, my resolve crumbled. After all, why shouldn’t I complete my collection?

If you’ve never heard of Grendel, then you’ve really been missing out. Emerging from the twisted imagination of Matt Wagner (one of the funny book industry’s most creative writer/artists), the eponymous character began his existence as a rather straightforward variation on the “gentleman thief” archetype (think Arsène Lupin, Fantômas, and Diabolik): by day, brilliant novelist Hunter Rose rubs shoulders with society’s elite, adored for his charisma and wit; but at night, clad in a sinister mask and wielding a deadly two-pronged spear, he stalks the streets as Grendel, a merciless assassin and cunning criminal mastermind. Despite the undeniable familiarity of its premise, the title’s visually arresting presentation—page layouts evocative of stained glass windows; a bold black, white, and red color palette—made it an instant classic.

Things take an interesting turn at the end of the first story arc, when the protagonist up and dies. The narrative leaps forward several decades, allowing a brand new character to inherit the Grendel persona: Christine Spar, a single mother (and, as it happens, Hunter Rose’s biographer) desperately searching for her kidnapped son. From here, the franchise becomes a fascinating meditation on the memetic nature of evil—how it spreads from one generation to the next, perverting good intentions and burning everything it touches to the ground. 

While Wagner himself produces the series’ best work (with the Devil Tales shorts being personal favorites of mine for their innovative art styles), he’s always been generous about inviting others to play in his sandbox, collaborating with the likes of Stan Sakai and Tim Sale to flesh out Hunter Rose’s backstory and providing illustrations for Past Prime, a prose novella penned by Greg Rucka (who I could also gush about for hours). The tales collected in these two doorstoppers, however, are on an entirely different level; Wagner allegedly granted the various creative teams free rein to develop the post-apocalyptic period of his setting as they saw fit. I’m looking forward to experiencing the (undoubtedly insane) fruits of their efforts.

[Originally written February 19, 2018.]

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