The Christine Spar saga is ended, but the story of Grendel is far from finished. Violence branches out like the twisting limbs of a tree in the dead of winter, and it’s in this season that we find ourselves trailing Brian Li Sung as he attempts to reconcile with the awful events of Grendel, Argent, and Tujiro.
To say his life has been upended would be an understatement. When we last saw him, he was cradling his dying lover in his arms. Now, he’s trying to make a living in New York, working as a set director for an off-Broadway play featuring a fair share of spoiled actors–in fact, it seems as if that’s all he’s dealing with. The world has changed a bit. It’s darker. Meaner, even. The theatre has a full-time security guard. Police patrol New York City with flying vehicles.
Bernie Mireault has taken over the penciling and inking duties for this run. His style is more gritty and realistic, which suits the theme well. So do the incredible coloring effects by Matt Wagner with an assist from Joe Matt. Dark tones paint New York in dreary blues. The faces are pale at best and sickly at worst.
“These people besiege me”
The story begins Brian Li Sung entering the theatre, where he’s accosted by a variety of actors and producers with outrageous demands. Gone is Brian’s cheery optimism–he gets through the day with a resigned mentality, never smiling, saying the right things to each of the actors who in turn are temporarily placated.
He’s momentarily stopped by a Kabuki mask hanging in the prop department. It calls back the trauma of Tujiro, which he’s been reading about in Christine’s hidden journals. On his walk home at night, the passing comments and discussions of New York’s denizens besieges him–“Pissed off” and “That’s my forte!” and “Absolve in the flesh”–are overheard. The city of New York is a cancer, he thinks. It’s trying to devour him.
At home, he sews a new Grendel mask. When he finishes work the next night, he has a vision of Christine as Grendel. He feels drawn to the mask he’s created. Another night of work, and alone in the theatre he finally puts on the mask. He feels lively and directed, practicing his Tai Chi onstage. But the security guard shows up–Brian feels an intense, repulsive hatred for the man.
Grendel strikes from the darkness.
“The darkness would help me”
Regina visits while Brian is at a low point. She mentions Captain Wiggins, who’s still hounding both of them about Christine’s journals. Brian lets slip an insulting comment, and Regina leaves. It’s obvious they’re both still hurting. It’s obvious Brian isn’t himself, and he tries to reach out … too late. Regina leaves.
At work, Brian is more assertive with the actors, who can’t understand why he doesn’t want to share drugs with them. He’s confronted by Captain Wiggins, who’s still on the trail of Grendel–he wants Christin’e Spar’s journals. Wiggins isn’t above making subtle threats to cajole Brian, but Brian snaps back. While watching the play that night, Brian can no longer stand the rantings of Katie, his co-worker, and snaps at her. All this anger and aggression is building and feeding off his trauma.
Later, he loses himself in Christine’s journals. Is he being influenced by her writing? It’s possible. Art mimics life mimics art, after all. In his own writings, his hatred of the city–and life itself–has intensified. City devours. It consumes. It slithers. In brief panels, he walks through the city, bombarded with snippets of conversations–“piss off” and “Shit’s down!” and “AIDS! AIDS!”–but he needs to visit the home of Argent, deep in the park. He wants to fire an arrow at the house, but relents, confused about why he has this strange desire.
As he’s retrieving more of the Grendel journals from their hiding place, a man attempts to rob him. Brian–wearing the Grendel mask–clubs him and then uses his prop bow to fire an arrow into the man’s back. A woman has seen everything. He fires an arrow at her but misses–intentionally, maybe?
The second issue ends with a terrible realization: Brian has gone back over his own journal entries and flipped them over to reveal an entirely different set of entries written with his left hand. Terrible, terrifying entries–“CUT OUT the heart of this beast!” and “For it’s only I who can swim in the dark–only I that can control the dark … AM the dark”–written by Grendel himself.
And Grendel is living inside of Brian.
“I don’t want to do this”
Wiggins corners Brian again, this time to hassle him about a suspicious murder in the park the previous night. It’s impossible to tell just how much Wiggins knows, but his electronic eye probably gives him some insight into the truth behind Brian’s words. Brian hates this eye. It bugs the hell out of him. Is Brian as cunning as Christine? He’s trying, but it’s impossible to tell for sure what Wiggins knows. He plays it close to his chest, content to piss of Brian.
And so Grendel decides it’s time to kill Wiggins. After raging his way through work, Brian begins trailing Wiggins. One arrow knocks Wiggins’ cab out of commission. Another arrow narrowly misses him. Grendel wants Wiggins to know he’s going to die. It feeds on the fear, but Brian isn’t so sure that Wiggins is afraid at all. Wiggins walks to the scene of the murder from the night before. He knows he’s being trailed.
Brian, staking out the scene in a tree, aims one final arrow. Does he hesitate? Does he win the inner struggle? If he does, it’s only long enough for Wiggins to turn and shoot him dead.
Brian’s saga is heartbreaking. The trauma of the entire Grendel saga has left him bitter and lifeless. He lives in New York, but he just seems to drift from day to day. He doesn’t smile. He’s not optimistic about anything. The people at his job seem like awful company, and no doubt the story is told through Brian’s POV. It’s possible the world is brighter and more colorful, but through Brian’s eyes it’s dull and lifeless.
Only Gin reaches out to him, and that attempt is cut short because he can’t help himself from lashing out. Brian was probably doomed from the start, and his life has become a complex tragedy. He grows bitter and imagines New York City as a cancer … he’s not far off. It’s not New York City that’s the cancer … it’s Grendel, spreading malignantly from person to person.
What is Grendel? Throughout the three-part story, the entire bottom section of each page is devoted to the dark thoughts inside Brian’s head, punctuated with a red, chaotic font. What is it? Either Grendel is the Devil, infiltrating Brian’s body, or Grendel is a second voice in Brian’s head that’s most likely the result of some pretty severe trauma. Both are worth considering. I like to lean in the direction of some kind of demonic possession, but it almost feels as if Grendel is some new thing manifested in Hunter Rose that’s grown as it moves from vessel to vessel.
If that’s true, then it would seem there’s a lot more story to tell. And things get dark pretty fast.
Next: Grendel #16 and 17!