Comic Book: Grendel

Meet the face of aggression.

Grendel is a comic book series created by Matt Wagner. The titular character first appeared in the anthology title "Comico Primer" #2 (1982). He held his own short-lived black and white series (1983-1984), and also appeared as back-up strip in "Mage" (1984-1986). Before launched in an original full-color series, lasting from 1986 to 1990. Various mini-series featuring Grendel regularly appeared through the 1990s. Reprints and some new material have continued appearing in the 21st century.

The initial subject matter concerns one Hunter Rose, who is a bestselling author, a sophisticated gentleman who attends high class parties. He's also Grendel, a ruthlessly efficient assassin who slowly takes over all the mobs in New York City. Matt Wagner's stories of Grendel are noir tales, black and white and red only. They are not only tales of a criminal mastermind, but a study in aggression.

Along the the way, Grendel comes across two other important characters: Stacy Palumbo, a young girl whom Hunter adopts after he kills her father, and Argent the Wolf, a cursed werewolf who works with the police to stop Grendel. At the end of the first Grendel story, Devil by the Deed, Stacy, who has found out Hunter is Grendel, manipulates both Grendel and Argent to fight on a rooftop, where Grendel dies.

However, this is not the end of the story; the series proper is set in the future after the conclusion of Devil by the Deed, initially featuring Stacy's daughter Christine Spar. The story then continues in the far future, where the concept of Grendel eventually becomes the basis of world civilisation.

Spoilers Ahoy!

This series provides examples of:

  • After the End: The War Child continuity clearly takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. Most of the Middle Eastern OPEC states are now an abandoned wasteland, and Europe is shown to consist largely of bombed-out ruins.
  • Animorphism: Vampires are capable of transforming into one specific animal each. This animal is known as their "totem".
  • Anything That Moves: Crystal Kennedy.
    • Her grandfather's pretty close, too.
  • The Apunkalypse: The North-Eastern USA ends up like this after World War III, and is still that way in Grendel Prime's era.
  • Badass Creed: The Oath of Obedience in the Assante continuity.
  • Big Fat Future: All the megacorp bosses in 2120 are really fat and fly around on hoverchairs.
  • Blade on a Stick: Hunter Rose's 'fork', a weapon also favored by Christine Spar and Eppy Thatcher
  • Bury Your Gays: Susan's lovers did not often have long lifespans, and if that wasn't bad enough...
    • Hide Your Lesbians: Crystal Kennedy essentially has Susan exiled to the Dakota compound so she can take up with a new (male) love interest.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: After Eppy Thatcher implants anti-grav disks into his hands and feet.
  • Cyber Punk: What the Grendel stories eventually become.
  • Cyborg: A few characters have cybernetic implants, such as Captain Wiggins' artificial eye. Cybernetics Eat Your Soul comes into play more than once. Taken Up to Eleven with Grendel-Prime, who is a full-body conversion powered by sunlight.
  • Death Seeker: It's probably easier to list characters that don't have at least overtones of this.
  • Demonic Possession: Occasionally discussed as part of taking on the Grendel identity.
  • Distant Finale: By the end of this far future we see that Grendel has, in his very basic essence and concept, taken over the world.
  • Dystopia: The Christine Spar and Brian Li Sung sections show US society becoming increasingly authoritarian and corporate-dominated, which eventually leads to a nuclear war and an even-worse theocratic dictatorship when civilisation recovers. Orian Assante's world-state may or may not qualify depending on the reader's judgement.
  • Early Installment Weirdness / Characterization Marches On: The black-and-white stories that introduced the character portray him as something between Don Corleone and an amoral Spider-Man. Matt Wagner once mentioned that Hunter Rose gets a little more evil every time he writes about him.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The Forx gang of Grendels, who burn crude oil instead of using it, and definitely true of the post-Assante Grendels, who take sharp issue with nuclear weapons.
    • Hunter Rose and Argent both really hate pedophiles. In the pages of Red, White and Black and Black, White and Red, they kill probably half a dozen between the two of them.
  • Experimented in College: This becomes Crystal's attitude to her relationship with Susan, much to Susan's heartache.
  • Eye Scream: The tines of Grendel's fork just happen to be the perfect width to stab someone through both eyes simultaneously.
  • Facial Markings: Many post-Orion Grendels adopt the "devil eyes" as markings, either make-up or tattoos for the really hardcore. Manny McDoone also has tattoos all over one side of his head and face.
  • Feudal Future: Orion's world state and its later degenerate form.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Hunter Rose will die on the roof of the Broadway Masonic Temple following a battle with Argent. The very first page of the very first issue, back in 1983, starts with both characters there.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The Confederacy Of Police in the Eppy Thatcher/Orion Assante arc.
  • Generation Xerox: Definite hints that the same people and roles tend to recur. As well as all the Grendels, Pellon Cross has some similarities to Argent, and Manny McDoone is Orion's version of Larry Stohler.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Orion Assante has Grendel Prime kidnap Jupiter and bring him up away from court so that the boy will grow up a righteous warrior instead of a decadent pampered princeling. It's implied that this may have resulted in Jupiter not noticing that his wife was planning to murder him and getting killed shortly after his coronation.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: The USSR still exists in 2120, at which point the simultaneous assassination of its Premier and the US President leads to World War III.
  • Happy Ending Override: Between "War Child" and "Past Prime": Jupiter I Assante is assassinated shortly after his coronation and Orion's empire degenerates into a quasi-feudal anarchy terrorised by self-serving rival Grendel clans and wandering psychos.
  • Holy Burns Evil: As a vampire, Cross is apparently repelled when Orion brandishes a makeshift cross at him. Subverted, since there wasn't actually any mystical effect: the sight of the cross brought his memory of being turned back and reminded him that Innocent was his main enemy.
  • I Love You, Vampire Son: Most vampires in the story are subservient to their creators.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The majority of stories, and individual chapters of longer stories, have a title using the word "devil". Subverted in one of the Hunter Rose stories told in flashback by Wiggins, where he tries and fails to come up with a title in this format and rejects it as Christine Spar's tic.
  • Intercontinuity Crossover: Batman/Grendel
    • Especially notable in that not only are both crossovers canon for Grendel, the sequel comic serves as a major plot point in Grendel Prime's life.
    • also, "Grendel vs The Shadow", where Grendel is sent back in time to the 1930s, where he stages a coup d'etat to take over the era's mafia and does battle with the famous vigilante.
  • Killer Gorilla: Grendel Prime is made to fight one when he encounters an African Grendel cult.
  • Knight Templar: All of the Orion's Sword Grendels who hold true to the code qualify to some extent.
  • Lethal Harmless Powers: One vampire has the ability to transform into an earthworm. She uses it to infiltrate a Las Vegas casino as a result of which it becomes conquered by vampires.
  • Lost Superweapon: The sun-disc from the War Child series. The missing component to make the thing work is Grendel-Prime himself.
  • Mle Trois: The climax of the Eppy Thatcher arc, with a climactic battle around the Church's tower involving Pope Innocent XLII and his fanatics versus Orion Assante and his followers versus Pellon Cross and his horde of vampires, with Thatcher acting as a lone agent of chaos and a bunch of drug-crazed worshippers caught in the middle.
  • Mugging the Monster: In Batman/Grendel II, when Grendel Prime picks a fight with a street gang to get a motorbike.
  • Mundane Fantastic: Many of the Grendels are Badass Normal, but the story also features vampires and werewolves.
  • Mutants: After World War III, the nuked Middle East becomes home to horrific and pathetic Body Horror radioactive mutants.
  • No Name Given: While all Grendels aspire to this in service to the Khan, Grendel-Prime has utterly abandoned his former life.
  • Nude Nature Dance: Hitchcock Blue frolicking in the desert when he's alone.
  • Omnibus: The early 2010s saw the publication of the complete series (minus the Batman crossovers for legal reasons, and the Argent origin story because it was impossible to obtain high-enough-quality artwork) in four omnibus volumes, in order of internal chronology.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The "rules" of vampirism in the series are closer to those in the original Dracula than many later elaborations.
  • Path of Inspiration: In the far future, the Catholic Church.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: Grendel-Prime's time-viewing/time-travelling machine is powered by the psychic energy released by mass murder.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Devil Child, featuring Stacy and bridging between Devil By the Deed and Devil's Legacy. Spoilers for real life trauma: Stacy was raped by a man she trusted. The second issue's letter column reveals that the writer based Stacy's reaction to this event on personal experience.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: Many of the Hunter Rose stories are in black and white with red highlights. Usually for blood.
  • Religion of Evil: Some of the Grendel cults, as well as the vampire cult founded by Pellon Cross.
  • Retcon: Matt Wagner's attitude towards Hunter Rose changed over time. Initially, Devil by the Deed contained hints of Rose being a Noble Demon (specifically relating to his pseudo-paternal concern for Stacy). But every time Wagner went back to that character, he made him more and more evil - to the point where his affection for Stacy was attributed to the never-before-mentioned fact that she reminded him of his dead lover Jocasta. The later stories also did the same to Argent: originally he is a relatively noble vigilante, but the subsequent stories have him killing relatively innocent people in his obsession to get Grendel, and one even suggests that he might be under the influence of the Grendel entity himself.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilised: Barrabus's revolt in Past Prime.
  • Samurai: Orion Assante's Grendel army in later series has major overtones of this, right down to the ritual suicides and the standard-issue katanas.
    • Grendel Tales back covers feature a motif of the symbols of individual Grendel clans. One of them is clearly based on Japanese mon.
  • Shared Universe: The "Grendel Tales" spinoffs, taking place after the Grendel ideal's ascent to world domination, and involving characters who aren't actual avatars of Grendel.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog:
    • A huge chunk of Behold the Devil was about Lucas Ottoman interviewing people about Grendel and eventually coming to realize that he was Hunter Rose. Of course, the readers know nobody knew who Grendel was until after his death, but it's still shocking when Grendel nonchalantly slits his throat and sets him on fire. More than that, Lucas's girlfriend, Detective Liz Sparks loses an eye, six fingers, and is burned over forty percent of her body, and a large number of completely innocent bystanders are killed when the building burns down. Wagner really doesn't want you to like Hunter Rose any more.
    • Also, Christine Spar's quest for revenge on Tujiro for killing her son leads to her death, Argent's, and those of a good deal of third-parties some of whom might have been innocent, as well as indirectly to the death of Brian Li Sung, but completely fails in its main objective.
  • Shout-Out: When Laurel Kennedy is declining into insanity, she plays with a group of dolls that include action figures of Tank Girl and Milk of Fun with Milk & Cheese.
  • Subliminal Advertising: Used by Orion Assante to influence other regions of the world to join his regime.
  • Take That: At one point, Christine Spar fights a dumb and obnoxious minion of Tujiro's, who has a set of blades attached to his knuckles, just like a certain famous Marvel character. She muses to herself that it's a stupid weapon with no reach, and cuts his entire hand off with her polearm, causing him to flee in cowardice.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Cross's minions Zebra and Kiersch.
  • Tropes Are Not Bad: The entire point of War Child, which plays with dozens of post-apocalypse tropes at once.
  • A True Story In My Universe: Many Hunter Rose stories include excerpts from, or outright are, publications by Christine Spar or Wiggins. The text sections of "Devil's Reign" are supposedly excerpts from a biography of Orion Assante by his stepdaughter Crystal Kennedy.
  • Twenty Minutes into the Future: Grendel: Devil's Legacy about Christine Spar, Stacy Palumbo's daughter
    • Given that cybernetics and similar leaps in technology are available, the 80s fashion is still overwhelming. Despite coming later, The Devil Inside fits this trope better, as only Wiggins' cybernetic eye gets much showcase.
  • Villain Protagonist
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Lots, including Captain Wiggins, Brian Li Sung, Laurel Kennedy and Abner Heath.
    • Implied to be the source of Grendel "possession", though this may just be Orion Assante's madness talking.