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The Devil You Should Know

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Those of you new to comics might think Matt Wagner is simply being opportunistic. Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf is just out in theaters and here we have a comic book bearing the name of that character’s nemesis. Perhaps this new book is just a way to trick those moviegoers into spending their money on what they think might be a quickly constructed tie-in.

But those in the know realize that Wagner’s Grendel is 25 years old in 2007. And what started as a part of an anthology book blossomed into a property that expanded the boundaries of comics as we know them. The character has outlasted the company that published its first adventures and made a name for its creator.

Grendel first appeared in 1982 in the second issue of Comico’s anthology book, Primer. If the 80s were the decade of the antihero, Grendel took that idea to a whole other level. He was Hunter Rose, a novelist by day, assassin/crimelord by night. In other words, the “hero” of the story was an evil, cold-blooded killer. The character had been compared more than once to the Devil in every sense of the word.

The character resonated with the anthology’s readers and it got its own black and white series the very next year. That series lasted only three issues before it ceased publication. But proof that you cannot keep a good character down arrived in 1985 as Grendel made a reappearance as a backup in Wagner’s next book, Mage.

That story arc, called “Devil by the Deed”, reworked the Grendel mythos. It fleshed out the character and his universe, introduced us to his nemesis, Argent, and ended with the death of Hunter Rose at his hands.

Usually, when you kill the person behind the mask so soon after people are first introduced to the character, it would mean the end of the franchise. But instead, it liberated it. Grendel became a series soon after and it began with a story featuring Christine Spar, the daughter of Hunter Rose’s adopted child.

That first arc established Grendel as more of an idea than any one person. This gave the concept legs and the ability to be adapted in various forms. It allowed Wagner to explore such themes as the corrupting power of vengeance, the seductive appeal of evil, and many other topics.

The Grendel Saga spanned decades of real time but centuries in comic book time. Later issues dealt with a dystopian future where Grendel had become a symbol at various times for rebellion, power and revenge—all where they are perceived as evil by some, just by others. Various and sundry people assumed the identity of Grendel, and what Grendel was and stood for changed with whoever assumed the mantle. The story became a sweeping epic which commented on organized religion, global politics, war, and conquest.

So rich was the concept that other creators were given a shot at playing in the universe. The Grendel Tales series allowed talents such as James Robinson, Steven T. Seagle and Terry Laban a chance to offer their interpretation of the Grendel legacy.

While the franchise has spanned far and wide from its humble beginnings, Wagner has returned to the Hunter Rose Grendel more than once, most notably in the Batman/Grendel crossovers.

The creator returns to his roots once again for this latest eight-issue miniseres. Not only is the Grendel in question Hunter Rose, but Wagner also assumes both the writing and art and the books will be printed in black and white—like the original series 25 years ago—with the color red added for impact.

Grendel started off as unique and became one of the most innovative franchises in comics. If you are one of the few who haven’t experienced the story for yourself, this series should serve as a great introduction.

Also out this week:

Heroes for Hire #15:

Yes, this series completes its tie-in with the World War Hulk crossover with an issue that asks “Who will live? Who will die? Who will get mad and quit?” And just to keep us guessing, it features a lovely cover where the entire cast is represented by only their skulls. Charming.

Another thing fans will be guessing about is if this issue is the last of the series. The title is conspicuously absent from future solicitations and was not setting the sales charts on fire to begin with. This would be the first time Marvel silently cancelled a series. They did the same most recently with New Excalibur. Hey, cancellation is a part of the comics business. But while Heroes for Hire might not have been a great seller, its readers deserve to know if the series is coming to an end.

Zeb Wells (W), Alvin Lee (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Checkmate #20:

Considering that Checkmate is a shadowy government organization that works just on the dark side of the law, you’d think that they’d be accustomed to backstabbing and double dealing. But when you have a master of duplicity such as Amanda Waller as a part of your team, you learn to expect the unexpected.

This issue brings “The Fall of the Wall” arc to a close. Waller, the “Wall” that is falling, has been engaging in some shady tactics and has used Checkmate to forward her somewhat less-than-nice agenda. But the rest of the organization’s leadership is on to her. She has finally gone too far and they are about to bring her down. Will they succeed? And if so, at what cost? Considering Amanda Waller is involved, the cost will probably be pretty high.  

Greg Rucka (W), Joe Bennett (A), DC Comics, $2.99, Ongoing Series.

Hawaiian Dick: Screaming Black Thunder #1:

The Hawaiian Dick franchise has given us two very successful and critically acclaimed miniseries. Isn’t it about time we got an ongoing out of the property? The series tells us that the answer is yes.

Byrd, the private eye in 1950’s Hawaii, finally gets a regular monthly series from Image. The blend of crime noir and tiki-tinged horror returns as a World War II fighter squadron finds themselves under attack by a Japanese fighter plane. The only problem is that it is 1954 and the war has been over for 9 years! It will be up to Byrd to straighten out this time-tossed mystery before things get out of hand.

The entire cast is back, so fans of the tropical noir will be happy. But this issue is an excellent jumping on point to those new to the franchise.

B. Clay Moore (W), Scott Chantler & Steven Griffin (A), Image Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Incursion #1:

War is hell. It contains horrors all too real and tangible. In and of itself, people are frightened of war and shrink in fear just at the thought of it.

Ghosts, depending on who you talk to, are not real. Or, at least, they have not been proven to be real. They primarily reside in the realms of the imagination and popular fiction. Sure, ghost stories can be scary, but we have the comfort of knowing that they can’t really happen to us.

This series is both a war story and a ghost story. Will the combination of the two work? Will the real horror of war mesh with the fictional horror of the spirt world? Or will they remind us that there are bigger things we need to be afraid of?  

Jay Busbee (W/A), Platinum Studios, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Franklin Richards: Fall Football Fiasco:

The smartest boy on Earth (Marvel’s Earth anyway) returns with a new special. This time, he’s taking on one of America’s favorite sports—Football. Of course, him being the child of Reed and Sue Richards, football by itself just isn’t challenging enough. Add to that dinosaurs, space aliens, and visitors from the future and he’ll have a challenge.

These Franklin Richards special are becoming a semi-regular occurance. One has to wonder if eventually Marvel will be making a monthly series out of it. I say, why not. This will be at least the 8th special they’ve done in the last two years, so there is a market for it. And we can always use another kid friendly comic book.

Marc Sumerak & Chris Eliopoulos (W), Chris Eliopoulos (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. One-Shot.

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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also writes periodic comic reviews for PopMatters, is a weekly contributor to Film Buff Online and writes title descriptions for Human Computing’s Comicbase collection management software. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

 

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