Once upon a time there was a boy named Eddie who was so gifted physically and mentally that his every goal was attained with careless ease. This led to a life of pride and despair, as nothing had any real meaning attached to it. Thus he formulated a new life of challenges for himself. Eddie became Hunter Rose, wealthy novelist and playboy by day, crime lord and costumed assassin by night. It was this latter role as “Grendel” that lived long after his death at the hands of a Native American man-wolf named Argent.
So we are told in the stories by writer/ artist Matt Wagner, creator of Grendel. The character debuted in 1982’s Comico Primer #2 and continued first in his own series, then (when publisher Comico began to experience financial difficulties, resulting in the cancellation of Grendel) as a backup story in the pages of Wagner’s more heroic creation Mage.
Interest in Grendel rose (no pun intended) due to his appearances in Mage and resulted in a new ongoing series. By this time Hunter Rose had become a dark legend, spread by the (fictional) biographical novel Devil by Deed written by Christine Spar (daughter of Rose’s adoptive daughter Stacy Palumbo). When Spar’s son is kidnapped by (no, I’m not making this up) a Vampire Kabuki dancer, Spar becomes the first to take up the mask of Grendel after Rose, initially in a quest to rescue her son, then in a quest to pretty much shish kebab every Tom, Dick, Harry or Sally she comes across. And thus the legend became a legacy.
What was the call of Grendel? What turned Spar from avenging angel to punishing devil in a single mission? Whatever it was soon consumed her surviving romantic interest Brian Li Sung. As the next Grendel, Li Sung took it upon himself to assassinate those who dogged Christine to her death, prompted by either the spirit of Hunter Rose or his own confused psyche. In both Christine and Brian, Wagner (now working with a series of talented artists) first showed us the hints that there might be something more supernatural about the mythos of Grendel than we originally saw. Could the succession of Grendels be the result of some form of devilish possession?
The answer would not be immediately clear, as a series of shorter stories followed, mostly surrounding those who came after Rose achieving wealth and fame upon his name (thus spreading the legend even further with each generation). By the time of Wagner’s predicted 26th century, Grendel’s name had become synonymous with “The Devil”. Enter Eppy Thatcher, a terrorist who dressed in a Grendel-like costume for blasphemous and political upheaval purposes while addicted to a strange drug also known as “Grendel”.
Thatcher’s resurrection of the Grendel concept as an individual inspired a line of world leaders known as “Grendel Khans”. The first of these, Orion Assante, believed he was, in fact, possessed by the Devil… possessed by Grendel.
Upon the dissolution of Comico, Wagner brought Mage to Image Comics and Grendel to Dark Horse Comics. Wagner continued the story of Grendel in the first all-Dark Horse mini-series War Devil. The Grendel of this story was alternately known as “Grendel-Prime” and “The Paladin” and was soon revealed to be a more machine than man. If the black fetish-wear and cyborg underpinnings aren’t enough of a Darth Vader connection, Grendel-Prime also wielded a bona-fide lightsaber. You may laugh, but this version of Grendel once got the best of Batman in the series’ second crossover with DC Comics.
Beginning in 1993 and running concurrently with the main Grendel series, Grendel Tales was a series of stories written by other comicbook professionals, set in the world created by Wagner (who by this time was also working on Sandman Mystery Theatre at DC). The main saga of Grendel’s legacy had now run into the far future, so Wagner’s stories took a step back into the past to reveal untold chapters in the life of Hunter Rose.
While most comic main characters pump iron, Grendel tends to pump irony. A criminal assassin that spawns a legacy of violent devils is the series’ protagonist. The closest thing to a heroic Grendel we get is the cyborg Prime with a mean streak the size of Dick Cheney. The future of the character(s) and the world they have spawned has been promised by Wagner to focus, at least for now, on stories of Hunter Rose in the past and Grendel Prime long after Rose’s death. By now, the image of this black-and-white villain that debuted in a small black-and-white comicbook has become iconic as something of an anti-Bruce Wayne. With the daring choice of killing off the title character and applying the mantle of Grendel to a futuristic crowd, Matt Wagner has dared to reveal that his most famous creation, the “Devil” we all know… is most assuredly NOT the only one.
Do Not Miss To Be Continued… when it boldly and daringly returns NEXT WEEK to PopMatters.com! Now there’s a future you will not want to miss.
// Notes from the Road
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