Detective Riley is in trouble. Beating Brian Li Sung was a bad idea–was it sanctioned, though? Was it “par for the course” when it comes to intimidating witnesses? One of the fun things to think about whenever we digest a book or a comic or watch a movie or TV show is: what are the rules here?
Think about a movie like John Wick. When we watch John Wick, we’re expected to accept that assassins have a private hotel downtown, and in this hotel there are rules that every assassin is expected to follow. Or in Jurassic Park, we’re expected to accept that scientists are able to extract dinosaur DNA from a mosquito encased in amber.
In Grendel, we’re expected to accept the following:
- Argent is a werewolf, cursed for a crime he committed long, long ago.
- Vampires are real.
- Police officers (at least many of them) act immorally and occasionally engage in extra-judicial force.
Out of those, number three is probably easiest to accept. Still, this issue is arguably the darkest one yet. Because this entire issue is dedicated to the demise of Detective Riley. At the hands of Grendel.
There’s no dialogue in this issue. It begins with Riley getting a drink at a rather strange bar populated by (I think) some other characters in the Comico universe. He thinks he sees Grendel in a mirror, so he slams his shot and leaves. As he’s walking, smoke begins billowing from his pocket–someone has slipped hot coals from a nearby food stand into his jacket. A dead crow hits him in the head. A sign falls from its wires, nearly crashing into him.
He flees to the subway. Someone nudges him and he nearly tumbles onto the train tracks in front of an oncoming train. He gets off and uses his binoculars to check up on (I think) Brian Li Sung, but he’s accosted by a homeless person and leaves. Bricks falling from the nearby skyscraper land all around him. A barrel of sludge hits him dead-on as he’s walking up the stairs of a fire escape. He pulls his gun, too late–the sharp blades of Grendel’s fork slice off his fingers.
In the last scene, Grendel finally delivers the killing blow. And it’s clear Christine wanted his last moments to be especially tortuous. In her journal, she writes: “Eventually, I killed him.”
This isn’t about her son anymore. The unrelenting aggression of Grendel has infected her and–I’d argue–taken her over completely. There’s no way back now. Does she realize it? Probably not. This wasn’t simply a revenge killing–Christine wanted to torture him before she did it. And judging from her reaction to Brian’s attack in the last issue, she clearly has begun to absorb the antipathies of Hunter Rose.
This is another issue where the Pander Brothers’ art really shines. All of Detective Riley’s emotions exist in his facial expressions, and it’s clear midway through that he’s growing more afraid. And the setting, too, continually plays a crucial role. Riley witnesses the city’s brutality–a couple thugs beating up a man in the street–and its redeeming qualities–two men saving Riley from falling in front of the train. Some pages feature entirely horizontal panels–like when Riley draws his gun–and some pages feature entirely vertical panels–like when Grendel slices his fingers off.
And you, the reader, have to endure every panel of Riley’s torture until his final breath. Christine takes us along for her ride. Do we empathize with her a little? Or do we find her game repulsive?