Written & illustrated by Matt Wagner
Don’t ever go back to a first love they say. And it’s so true.
I fell for Matt Wagner’s Grendel back in 1986 when I caught a glimpse of it serialised in the back of Mage. This was the second outing of Grendel and the 1986 collection of Devil by the Deed is still sitting on my shelf, regularly re-read and well-thumbed. It was 36 pages of clever design, beautiful layouts and engrossing story telling the bloody saga of the first Grendel, Hunter Rose, from beginning to end.
Since then I’ve followed the progression of the character throughout many, many versions of the character. Initially Grendel was a person, a superhuman assassin massacring his way through the crime cartels for his own gain. With the death of the first Grendel, the costume and fight passed on to another, each subsequent individual using Grendel for their own purposes. But then Wagner made an important change, establishing Grendel as more than a costume, making it the Grendel that inhabits the person. From then on, it was a fascinating and innovative ride as the Grendel spirit moved onwards and upwards, until in the end, Grendel was no longer an individual but had become a guiding premise for society. Unfortunately the later tales are long out of print, but should, at some point soon, be available again. The entire Grendel saga, from Devil by The Deed through to the final “real” volume; Grendel: War Child is a perfect illustration of how to craft a saga with a brilliant and readable beginning, middle and end.
(panels from Grendel: Behold the Devil #1 by Matt Wagner, published Dark Horse)
Unfortunately Matt Wagner seems to have forgotten this artistic ideal of moving forward. Instead, he’s spent recent years revelling in untold stories of the first Grendel, the one I first met in Devil by the Deed. Lots of people like this, but for me every extra untold tale merely sullies the greatness of the original concept. There was something so delightfully pure and complete about the first Grendel. It started and finished in 36 pages. It was perfect.
Grendel: Behold The Devil is another return to the world of Hunter Rose, the first Grendel. These eight issues will end up with 4 times the page count that we had in the original Devil by the Deed. Now much of this is because Matt Wagner’s art style and storytelling has changed over the years to become very open and decompressed but to me it’s an important point. The original Devil by the Deed is an exercise is brevity, condensed storytelling and simply great comics. Behold The Devil merely feels flabby and lazy by comparison. What’s it about? Grendel massacres a room full of people, mobsters who refused to pay the money he was owed. But something’s watching him. And that’s about it really. Did I mention that Matt Wagner’s style was very decompressed?
I’ll be re-reading Devil by the Deed again and hoping that Dark Horse and Matt Wagner get around to re-releasing all of the great, progressive Grendels of the past. When they do I’ll rave about them, but until then I’ll pass on this continual strip mining of a great idea.
Richard Bruton is a lifelong comics fan and former Comic Book Store Guy; you can read more of his thoughts on comics and life on his blog Fictions.