Grendel #1 marked a new beginning in Wagner’s Grendel series. Where the Comico original focused on Hunter Rose and ended after 3 issues (including one shorter story in Premier), this new series would run for more than 40 issues, span multiple protagonists, and cover hundreds of years.
The legacy of Grendel starts, fittingly, with Christine Spar, author of Devil by the Deed. The definitive book about Hunter Rose has already sold hundreds of thousands of copies when the story begins, and Spar splits her time between publishing and her son, Anson. Things get grim fast: after Christine and her son attend an event starring a world-famous Kabuki dancer named Tujiro, Anson disappears in the middle of the night. Christine, using some pretty intense Internet researching (impressive for the early 90’s!), discovers more missing boys in each of the cities Tujiro has visited.
Christine’s obsession grows. She’s determined to find her son–even if he’s already dead–and to do it she’s willing to sell her soul to the Devil. Before the first issue is over, she’s already stolen Grendel’s famous mask and fork, and fashioned herself a new suit.
And somewhere in the city, Argent sits. Broken and aged. Still suffering. And he recognizes the Devil’s scent.
With Matt Wagner doing full-time story work for this series, pencilling duties go to Arnold and Jacob Pander. Their style is distinctly New Wave, right down to the haircuts. One of the things the Pander brothers do in these early comics is fill. The entire Kabuki scene spans multiple pages, and the Pander brothers detail the setting in nearly every panel. You see what society looks like (everyone’s outfits are “retro,” and everyone loooooves flashy lapels), and you also see what the near-future looks like in the background. Flying cars. Stylish furniture that evokes curved, sleek shapes. High-speed Internet. In later issues, Wagner and the artists will take more risks in portraying technological leaps in the future, to terrifying results. This is a good start.
I think one of the reasons I became enraptured with the original Grendel–Hunter Rose–is because he just seemed so cool. Growing up, I always found my toy campaigns lacking when I follow the advice of my favorite cartoons. Here were the GI Joe good guys and here were the bad guys. Ditto Transformers. The problem was the bad guys were always so much cooler. Other than Snake Eyes, the GI Joe team was just a bunch of military dudes and dudettes. Cobra had Cobra Commander and Destro and Stormshadow. Transformers? Optimus Prime (a truck) versus Megatron (a gun). Thankfully, this was partially fixed with the appearance of the Dinobots.
Christine Spar clearly harbors a fascination with her “grandfather.” She admits it multiple times. Something about him draws her in. In a discussion about Argent, Christine’s boss and her new assistant argue: was he a crime fighter or simply a brutal aggressor? Christine offers a telling take: “Pressures build and some people get desperate. For some people, despair is such a potent force that it’s irresistible.”
What will drive Christine? Her missing son, for starters. Here’s the inverse of Hunter Rose’s relationship with Stacy, played out in a similar fashion. But in Tujiro we have a different kind of enemy, one infinitely more interesting whose legacy will be intertwined with Grendel’s for the remainder of the series. Tujiro arguably is a pedophile, but he harbors other secrets.
Christine only knows that he has her son. And since the police are unwilling to help (this is the 90’s, remember: crimewaves and all that no doubt influenced the story!), she will don the costume and weapon of her grandfather in order to enact her own version of justice. But justice in this world can be supernatural: Argent, after all, is essentially a cursed werewolf who fought Grendel’s criminal empire with brutal violence. How far has his obsession gone? Grendel has been dead for decades. The setup is enticing, and the paneling in the last two pages suggests that the lives of Argent and Christine will be intertwined.
About the Pander Brothers: Jacob and Arnold Pander are still making comics today, but they also venture out into movies and other creative work. Their newest venture is Girlfiend, published by Dark Horse Comics. Here’s a great interview with them that discusses their inspirations and creative process. Another cool thing work checking out: they have a daily comic, inspired by their XXX series!
The reprint … was published by Dark Horse Comics. Easy to find!
All images copyrighted by Dark Horse Comics, Matt Wagner, and respective artists.