“Hunter Rose goes to Gotham.”
The Batman/Grendel 2-part collection takes place three years after Grendel’s ascendancy in the criminal underworld. I remember reading this comic with a friend without any understanding of who Grendel was (or why he kept referencing “The Wolf”) and yet I was enraptured by the villain. He was just so cool.
The story is pretty straightforward: Grendel is looking for a challenge, and so he takes an opportunity to visit New York–Hunter Rose is being courted by a fancy New York Publisher–and raise a little Hell on Batman’s turf. Grendel wants a challenge, of course. Who else to provide it than the Caped Crusader?
Grendel’s target is the head of the Sphinx, which is being carefully restored after decades of damage due to acid rain. Grendel relies on blackmail, intimidation, threats, and seduction to get all the answers he needs. Fresh on his tail is the Dark Knight, who follows a series of riddles intended to trick him into believing The Riddler is behind all the mayhem. But Batman is too clever to fall for the trick, and in the end he finds himself face-to-face with the Devil, culminating in a rooftop fight that leaves Hunter Rose debating whether to rip up entirely his journal entry of the events.
The books are ingeniously designed, and follow four primary characters:
- Hunter Rose, AKA Grendel – Hunter’s journal entries, written in cursive.
- Bruce Wayne, AKA Batman – Bruce’s entries are clearly typed on a computer.
- Rachel King – One of the art directors who ends up overseeing the restoration of the Sphinx. Her diary entries are in yellow text to match her hair, and are shredded in places.
- Hillary Ferrington – An editor at the publisher courting Hunter Rose, and his escort while he’s in town. Hillary’s text boxes are purple, nearly matching her hair. Also a diary entry, but with a narrative streak that’s explained by her profession.
The characters get pretty equal billing, which gives readers plenty of time to follow Hillary and Rachel, who are both unwitting pawns in Grendel’s schemes. Their lives have been intertwined since college, though Rachel doesn’t understand just how close under Grendel reveals Hillary’s secret: she gave up a child for adoption. Rachel, having had an abortion at a young age, attempts to bring down Grendel–who she mistakenly believes to be Bruce Wayne–in an act of fury that nearly kills her best friend.
Friendship is tested. Pawns are moved around the chess board. And through it all, you have a villain craving entertainment and a weary hero who’s already had his fair share of psychos in costumes. Wagner–who both wrote and drew the series–plays on these dichotomies with the design. Early in the first book, Batman takes down a group of thugs who are about to attack Hillary. In opposite panels, Grendel is attacking an innocent bystander he hopes to use to glean information about the Sphinx. One one page, Rachel is on the phone with her boss, arguing about an upcoming meeting. On another page later on, Hillary is one the phone with Hunter Rose, discussing Hillary’s personal life.
Book 2 has more design dichotomies, but the starring scene is a confrontation between Grendel and Batman in the gallery run by Rachel, including a beautiful 2-page spread of the two about to do battle while hundreds of stuffed owls watch. Grendel leads Batman into the belly of a whale skeleton, knowing full-well that Batman’s cape would get in the way. Both play each other’s game, and like chess they alternate between guessing each other’s moves and falling into traps.
All four of the main characters’ writing establishes their Ethos. This is clearly the moody, awkward Bruce Wayne of the 90’s. Grendel obviously cherishes his genius and takes delight in his dangerous mischief. Hillary and Rachel slowly diverge over the course of the books, and ultimately Grendel’s toxic aggression is too powerful to fight.
If there was any doubt about Hunter Rose’s genius, these books put that to rest. But they also show just how horrible he truly is and where he draws his imaginary line. He’s more than willing to kill police officers, more than happy to manipulate innocent people, but he wouldn’t harm a child. Especially not a little girl.
This marks the end of the Hunter Rose era. But as we’ll soon see, the legacy of Grendel can leave a searing mark on the soul …
Tights? Yes, Batman wears traditional tights in this comic. Mentioned twice by Alfred.
Commissioner Gordon … should be fired for his general incompetence in this one. But incompetent law enforcement will become a traditional theme in the Grendel series.
Worst Crossover: Archie vs. Predator.
Images are copyrighted by Dark Horse Comics.