Saturday, June 4, 2016

Time to Murder and Delegate

Grendel: Behold the Devil (2007-2008/ Reprinted in Grendel Omnibus 1/ 2012): written and illustrated by Matt Wagner: Writer-artist-Canadian Matt Wagner's Grendel was one of the great, innovative comic series of the 1980's and early 1990's. And he's returned to it again and again over the years, ultimately building an epic that spans centuries. In 2007, he returned to both writing and drawing Grendel to present the world with the longest single narrative about the first Grendel (aka Hunter Rose).

The mysterious Hunter Rose, first created by Wagner in the very early 1980's, is a dark riff on characters that include Batman and The Shadow. He's a mysterious millionaire who dresses up in a costume. But instead of fighting crime, he wants to control it. Possibly all of it, but he starts with New York. And as he's possessed of greater-than-human intelligence and reflexes, he rapidly starts to take over all of organized crime after a brief career as a hired assassin.

Hunter Rose (an assumed name) is also a critically acclaimed writer and philanthropist. But it's as his alter ego Grendel that he shines as a genius of murder and organization. Behold the Devil fills us in on several months in Rose/Grendel's life not long before his final confrontation with the strange, ancient crime-fighter Argent, an articulate and hyper-violent man-wolf (no joking).

Wagner is in rare form in this 200-page graphic novel as both writer and artist. We learn a certain amount of new things about Hunter Rose, but much of the focus and sympathy lies with two characters trying to stop Grendel, the female cop in charge of the anti-Grendel task force and the reporter who figures out who Grendel really is. Both characters are beautifully drawn, and beautifully drawn. When horror comes, one really feels for them: Grendel is a monster.

But throughout Wagner's Grendel stories, Grendel is also a person possessed, quite literally. There's a sort of psychic comeuppance waiting for Hunter Rose in this story, one that is many ways even worse for him than the fate we've known since the early 1980's awaits him. This story is also set in the early 1980's, though subsequent Grendel stories move decades, centuries, and possibly millennia into the future. Grendel is a force expressing itself across time, wrecking lives as it goes along.

This novel is best read in the sequence of stories provided by Dark Horse's great four-volume Grendel Omnibus. The Omnibuses are great deals, though it's too bad the market can't support full comic-book-size reprints for these stories. The smaller trade-paperback-sized format doesn't affect this story too much, but other stories sometimes need either young eyes or magnifying glasses for some of the now-teeny-tiny text. Oh, well. Still, a great tale of an anti-superhero and the terrible things he does because he's bored. Highly recommended.

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