Book Reviews Grendel

Published on March 6th, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley

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Grendel Omnibus Vol.1

Grendel has reached that age ripe for compilation (over 25 years) having been in publication since 1983 making it now 30 years old. A little late to the party, Judge Dredd series was 28 years old when it decided to start the Case Files collection back in 2005.I have the first volume of the Omnibus released in August last year, this has a lot of the small one shot stories but hasn’t got any of the “true” serialised stuff in, as such I can’t really pass comment on that part of it yet.

Grendel is a graphic novel series created by Matt Wagner about an esteemed novelist and philanthropist, Hunter Rose whose alias is a mastermind criminal in control of almost the entirety of New York’s organised crime. The series has a noir-style vibe with New York bearing German expressionist leanings. So basically it looks like Gotham City.

The writing is mostly done by Matt Wagner so there is a good level of consistency with story detail and the characters’ depictions, there are some interesting themes and ideas that are present within the stories. Namely what it is that people live for. Hunter Rose lives to recapture the excitement and passion that he once held for a previous lover.
He does this by assuming an Oedipal role in a young girl’s life, whose Uncle Barry was killed by his Grendel persona in an incident related to his criminal activities. He covets Stacy Palumbo as an entertainment and also likes to use his “possession” of her to antagonise one of his long-running adversaries, Argent.

Sporting an Art Deco-style frame layout on this page.

Sporting an Art Deco-style frame layout on this page.

Argent is a Native-American that is hundreds of years old, he is cursed with the body of a wolf-man and aggressive tendencies. Unfortunately it’s not fully explained why all this is and there is little other supernatural occurrences in the series. Argent often works with the police despite his innate violence, he loves Stacy Palumbo and they share a similar relationship to a young child and their pet dog.

The ensuing fights between Grendel and Argent form a basis for these stories, with Hunter Rose using the nature of the beast as a way to humiliate him. Grendel is a fast and intelligent fighter and often outwits his opponents using planned tactics and shadows to his advantage, much the opposite of the strong and terrible Argent.

The design of Hunter Rose is fantastic, the costume is a minimalist black all in one jumpsuit with white gloves and boots, the mask is a piece of cloth tied round to the back of his head, and looks like Rorschach meets Spiderman. His weapon is a bo staff with a tuning fork style blade on the end.
It’s a distinctive weapon and quite unique.
Argent looks like a were-wolf and has incredible speed and stealth, although is unable to sneak up on Grendel.

The One-shots and Red, Black and White piece mostly cover different envisions of Hunter Rose, his past and his criminal networks in New York. This is told through multiple perspectives of different characters, enemies, allies and witnesses, leaving a lot of information on Hunter Rose/Grendel’s past and his current activity mysteriously vague and punctuated by the teller of the story’s own impressions and interpretations of the events.

Roses are a prominent feature in the narrative.

Roses are a prominent feature in the narrative.

The different characters’ perceptions come off incredibly well when twinned with the various different art styles, as pretty much every short has a different artist. The noir setting is emphasised with a colour palette of only black, white and red, and the noir-speech this also helps with the immersion of the character’s narration (often speaking to the police) and really keeps you interested in the goings-on of the plot. This is also pretty fortunate because in this volume there is a lot of repeated story segments of Hunter’s life are not always completely coherent when left without a character to fill you in on the details of the situation.

If you pick this up on a whim like I did, then it was probably because Grendel looks like an interesting character in a beautiful setting not often explored in mediums outside of comics and Graphic novels, and as an added bonus, the art looks awesome. It’s a stylistically violent graphic novel and is very atmospherically engaging. The art variations are interesting to see as too often artists don’t try to experiment with the page layout or design. In this you will often find many different panels and text boxes that you must navigate and sometimes even take the initiative with when reading.

The first volume of Grendel oozes with noirish style and pulpy violence, it’s approach to design is fresh and the fast paced story and witty dialogue keeps you coming back for more. It is a great read for fans of bloody action comics like Sin City and it has a hard-boiled feel too. The second volume is available now and has the serialised stories of Grendel: Devil Inside, I’m really looking forward to seeing more of this.

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