Sunday, June 5, 2016

Devil Insider

1988 collected edition
Grendel: Devil's Legacy (1986-87/ Reprinted in Grendel Omnibus 2: The Legacy/ 2013): written by Matt Wagner; illustrated by the Pander Brothers, Rich Rankin, and Jay Geldhof: Approximately 50 years after the death of first Grendel Hunter Rose comes this Grendel story. It chronicles the tragic fall of journalist Christine Spar, dubbed "Grendel's grand-daughter" by the press because while she's not biologically related to Hunter Rose, she is the only daughter of his adopted daughter Stacy Palumbo.

Devil's Legacy occurs some time in the late 2020's or early 2030's -- Hunter Rose died in 1982. Besides her mother's relation to Rose, Spar has also written an acclaimed and popular non-fiction book about Grendel. But now she's about to get sucked into the underworld which Hunter Rose so briefly but completely dominated.

Originally published in 12 issues in the late 1980's, Devil's Legacy saw creator Matt Wagner hand the artistic duties over to the Pander Brothers. They really suit the story (though I also assume Wagner crafted elements of the story to suit them). Stylish, sharp cartooning gives way to a gallery or grotesques and grotesque poses and representations as the story proceeds and Spar assumes the mantle of Grendel. 

She begins by using Hunter Rose's stolen costume and weapon to seek answers about her missing son. 

She ends in conflict with almost everyone.

The art by the Panders really is nice, whether in the cleaner-lined, prettier early sections or in the distorted faces and bodies of the later stretches of the narrative. Matt Wagner's writing is sharp and expressive as well. Spar's tragic descent is narrated by Spar herself at points, an unreliable narrator becoming more unreliable by the moment. Despite the personal nature of the early stages of her assumption of the Grendel identity, Spar rapidly grows to share the obsessions and urges of Hunter Rose. 

There are flaws in the narrative. The most glaring is the representation of the reaction of the New York police to a missing-child case. Their indifference seems entirely artificial, necessary for Spar's descent into Grendel-hood but never made believable. And that's despite the fact that the police have been privatized in this future of flying cars and an immigrant Eskimo problem in the United States. 

72 hours before the police will search for a missing nine-year-old boy? Um, no. Wagner might have been able to sell this idea by spending more time establishing the police as being completely useless and under-staffed, but these things aren't developed enough to make this particular bit of incompetency even remotely plausible. 

And not making the police interested in such a disappearance does make elements of Spar's later vendetta against the police seem far too Straw-Man-ish: the savagery and vindictiveness of Grendel is made to seem like a suitable response, and I don't think that's what Wagner was aiming for in his representation of Spar's late-life bildungsroman.

However, the rest of this future, while a little flying-car happy, is fascinatingly imagined. The characterization of the main characters, from Spar through her friends and lover all the way to the police who come to pursue her and the strange man-wolf Argent, is sharp and quite moving at times. Fine work all around. This part of the Grendel epic works nicely for the most part in the slightly reduced page size of the Dark Horse Grendel Omnibus series, though a few sections of text strain the eyes a bit. Highly recommended.

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