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Comic Book / Grendel

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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, with its avatar Grendel Prime.

A slightly-retconned Grendel Prime stars in the more recent series Devil’s Odyssey, a space opera homage to the 1980s Heavy Metal magazine and other SF works. It is a significant tonal shift from the earlier series, closer to true parody.

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. By the time of Devil's Odyssey Earth is on the verge of dying out and Grendel Prime is sent out to space in seek of a new world for humanity.
  • 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.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: It's kind of blink-and-you'll-miss-it due to the relatively low story prominence of Orion's sisters, but when he first enters the story, they and he are lovers. This is apparently relatively common in Orion's time due to an AIDS epidemic, which raises the question of how bad that would have to be to normalize sibling incest.
  • Bury Your Gays: Susan's lovers did not often have long lifespans, and if that wasn't bad enough...
  • Canon Welding: Played with. Both of the crossovers with Batman are Grendel continuity, but not Batman's.
  • Captain Ersatz: The Consortium in Devil's Odyssey are blatantly inspired by The Culture — an AI-ruled Utopia with super-powered science and a tendency to whimsical starship names.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Orion Assante is a more literal version of this than most, being the closest the series has to a genuine Big Good and also very much in requited love with his half-sisters.
  • Cliffhanger: The ending of Devil's Odyssey, in which Grendel Prime returns to Earth after Time Dilation to discover that Grendels are to be killed on sight and that the world may have been taken over by vampires.
  • Comic-Book Time: Hunter Rose is canonically 18 or so when he becomes a best selling novelist and begins his campaign as Grendel, and adopts Stacy Palumbo shortly afterward. She does not age noticeably before Hunter's death, and the events of Behold the Devil, a comic running parallel to Grendel's early time before the public knew of him, heavily implies Hunter's death occurs less than a year later.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: After Eppy Thatcher implants anti-grav disks into his hands and feet.
  • Cyberpunk: 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. Grendel-Prime 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.
  • Defiant to the End: At the end of "Devil's Choices", Igor, facing a firing squad, dresses them down for being sloppy in their drill and himself gives the order to fire.
  • 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.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Hunter Rose is a boy of fifteen when the 35 year old Jocasta Rose seduces him and makes him into her lover. It's never depicted as the disturbing abuse it actually is, largely as it's shown from Hunter's perspective, and he continues idealizing her long after it warps him badly.
  • 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.
  • Easily Swayed Population: The people of Revan Jhek, who accept Grendel Prime as a messiah but are instantly turned against him with a brief and ridiculous speech by Gama Gorach.
  • 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.
      • Also subverted. Several stories indicate Hunter Rose may be attracted to Stacy, and he's definitely jealous of her affection for Argent.
    • The Grendel Empire is rife with corruption and infighting, but everyone draws a line at vampires or nuclear weapons.
  • 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.
  • Failed Future Forecast: The USSR still exists in 2120, at which point the simultaneous assassination of its Premier and the US President leads to World War III.
  • 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.
    • Hunter Rose in Batman/Grendel is revealed to wear the Grendel mask as makeup under the actual Grendel mask.
  • Feudal Future: Orion's world state and its later degenerate form.
  • For the Evulz: Larry Stohler, Hunter's right hand, is repeatedly shown to gain nothing for his association with Grendel. By all appearances, he's helping Hunter Rose for the hell of it.
  • 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.
  • Frequently-Broken Unbreakable Vow: Expect most promises to end in bloodshed. Expect those who break the Grendel Oath to suffer for it. Expect most showcased Grendels to break the oath.
  • Freudian Excuse: Jocasta Rose's seduction of Eddie, a child in his early teens and twenty years Jocasta's junior, is repeatedly shown to be the Start of Darkness for Hunter.
  • 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.
    • Anyone with a skunk stripe is probably a major Grendel figure.
  • Genre Shift:
    • The 20th and 21st century stories are noir crime dramas with superhero elements.
    • The later-set stories are post-apocalyptic SF.
    • Devil's Odyssey is a Wagon Train to the Stars with overtones of Heavy Metal-style European SF comics.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: Part of Stacy's own descent into madness is due to Hunter keeping the highly social child away from other children. When her primary interactions are with a sociopath, his confidante, and a literal man-eating monster, it's no surprise she develops problems even before Grendel manipulates her against Argent.
    • Happens to Wiggins, too, who eventually spends all his time either dictating Grendel stories, until he starts going mad.
    • Following Susan's death, Grendel Prime goes mad from having no other Grendels close to his standards.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: Crystal Kennedy essentially has Susan exiled to the Dakota compound so she can take up with a new (male) love interest.
  • 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.
  • Homeworld Evacuation: The setup for Devil's Odyssey is Grendel Prime being sent to space to seek out a new planet for humanity.
  • Hover Bike: Appear frequently in the far-future parts of the story, ridden by those Grendels who tend to an "outlaw biker" aesthetic. Grendel Prime likes them.
  • 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:
    • The two Batman/Grendel miniseries, 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 Hunter Rose 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.
    • Grendel Prime is specifically called out on this, repeatedly referred to as "paladin".
  • 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.
  • Mêlée à 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.
  • Morality Chain: Susan Veraghan is implied to be this for Grendel Prime, while she lives. Once she passes away, the last of Grendel Prime’s heroic traits vanish as well.
  • 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 Silverback because it was impossible to obtain high-enough-quality artwork) in four omnibus volumes, in order of internal chronology.
  • One-Hit Polykill: At the end of "The Devil May Care", Dana, after having been forced to kill her own son in self-defence and seeing her city reduced to ruins by the fall-out of her affair with Hack, kisses him and shoots them both through the head with a single bullet.
  • Our Vampires Are Different:
    • In the Christine Spar arc, Tujiro is an Asian vampire who has a largely different set of rules from the traditional European type. For one thing, he seems to change only into a cat, being hit with water is highly painful and fire is a concern when he is exposed to it. However, sunlight is no impediment for him, which he uses to maximum effect to give Christine the scare of her life when she wakes up in the middle of the morning and finds the vampire waiting right at her bed just to taunt her.
    • Later in the series, the vampire population explosion started by Pellon Cross's indiscriminate siring habits clarifies several details about vampires in the world of Grendel: each one can assume a single animal form, called a 'totem', that reflects his or her personality; they don't bleed unless they'd previously been hemophiliacs, in which case it makes them ravenously hungry; they can subsist on blood from animals or dispensed by machines; they share Tujiro's vulnerability to water, which can kill them in sufficient amounts; and, while sunlight couldn't kill Tujiro (probably due to his age), younger vampires dislike it so much that they prefer to live far from the equator.
  • 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.
    • The corruption of the Catholic Church is a common theme in Orion Assante's stories.
  • Trial by Combat: The basis of society on Revan Jhek, which Grendel Prime tries to overthrow.
  • 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.
  • Trumplica: In Devil's Odyssey, the corrupt and stupid ruler of Revan Jhek, Gama Gorach, is blatantly a caricature of Donald Trump as an alien frog-creature, echoing Trump catch-phrases in much of his dialogue.
  • 20 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.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Jocasta Rose doesn't seem to be aware just how badly she warped Eddie.
  • Villain Protagonist: Most stories take place from the Grendels' perspectives, which are rarely sympathetic.
  • Wife Husbandry: A possible motive for Hunter's interest in Stacy. Stacy herself fantasizes about marrying him.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Lots, including Captain Wiggins, Brian Li Sung, Laurel Kennedy and Abner Heath. Even Grendel Prime succumbs over time.
    • Implied to be the source of Grendel "possession", though this may just be Orion Assante's madness talking.
  • Would Not Hurt A Child: Played with. While Hunter Rose seems to have a fondness for children, going out of his way to save, spare, or avenge them, he's also shown to have an unhealthy interest in Stacy Palumbo. At no point, either, do we see him go out of his way to prevent the death of children in the crossfire of his adventures.
  • You Have Failed Me: Argent tries to get a sorcerer to give him a way to trace the identity of Grendel. When it fails, Argent is not in a forgiving mood.