By Matt Wagner
Matt Wagner created Grendel thirty years ago. After much thought about the stagnating comic scene he went about creating to of his lasting characters, Kevin Matchstick(From Mage) and Grendel. Grendel was born out of the idea that a book about the villain of the story could be more compelling than the one told about the hero. By making Hunter Rose a suave, beautiful, cold, cunning and incredibly intelligent, Wagner had all the things he needed to create one of the most memorable characters to come out of the 80s. All he needed now was a book, sadly due to funding issues at Comico, Grendel's first story was never finished. But Wagner sat on his idea until he could find a place to tell his story. The opportunity came when he was writing and drawing Mage.
“Devil by the Deed” started out as a backup story in Mage. Four pages every issue that slowly delved into the fascinatingly tragic story of Hunter Rose. Wager had a lot of story to cover and not a lot of ground in which to cover it. In an experiment that many people (including Alan Moore) was original and fascinating. Mixing prose and sequential art, Wagner's tale of Grendel was a sight to behold. While this technique may not be the most original, it is certainly one of the best executed. The art and text flow together so well it does not feel as though it slows down the story. The book moves at a brisk clip and rarely lets up. While Wagner's early art may be a bit jarring to some readers who are familiar with his current style, it is still fantastic cartooning. With characters who move fluidly and whose posture reflect what the text doesn't spell out for you, Wagner's more cartoony style works with this story so well you may forget how any misgiving preciously held.
Minor spoilers ahead, I will try and not give too much away, but there is a lot of ground covered and it isn't a very long book.
Hunter Rose is destined to fail from page one. The story is told post postmortem by a reporter named Christine Spar, who has some connection to Hunter. The three central characters of the book are Hunter Rose, the enigmatic assassin and crime lord, Argent a three hundred year old wolf man who is the city's protector, and Stacy Palumbo, a young child who Hunter adopts and who also has a strong bond with Argent.
Little is known about Hunter Rose's early life and it is glossed over rather quickly, yet the seeds of what he will become are planted there. Rose is exceptionally smart, a gifted fencer, and everything comes naturally to him. Losing the love of his life at seventeen he embarks on the only challenge left to him, dominating the world the surrounds him. Adopting the guise of Grendel and with his electrified bladed fork, he become the most dangerous and feared crime boss on the east coast. The rise of Grendel is great to behold but his fall is even more fantastic. He doesn't fail because the wolf Argent is such a great detective and deduces everything. He doesn't fail due to incompetence in his organization. He fails because he underestimated the one closest to him, because of his ego and because of his own heart.
Matt Wagner's opening tale in the greater world of Grendel is wonderful. Thankfully even though Hunter Rose may have perished, there are still other stories told with him. Even though the mantle and curse of Grendel is passed on throughout the centuries, Hunter Rose remains a favorite of most Grendel fans. Is it because he is what a villain should be? Charismatic, intelligent, suave, beautiful and deadly? Is it the simple and elegant costume? It could be all these and more, but it seems clear that Hunter is the Grendel most glom onto.
If you are curious about Grendel then “Devil by the Deed” is a great place to start. If you want more Hunter Rose there are a few other stories that focus on him , “Behold the Devil” is a favorite of mine. There are also two anthologies, “Black, White and Red”, and “Red, White and Black” both delve deeper into Hunter Rose's past and also have some fantastic art from creators like: Jill Thompson, Tim Sale, Duncan Fegredo, Mike Allred and a ton more. All of Hunter's exploits are also available in a handy digest sized omnibus which is well worth it. Grendel has been around for thirty years, and while not every Grendel is as charming as Hunter, they are all fascinating and as long as Matt Wagner will tell his stories, I will keep reading them.