Thursday, February 26, 2015

MATT WAGNER’S GRENDEL: interweaving craft & theme [introduction]

In 1982, Matt Wagner created his iconic comic book character, Grendel.  A charismatic but ruthless anti-hero who did not survive that first story, Wagner has smartly and impressively expanded that first spark into a lengthy meditation on evil and the darkness that lies deep within us all.  I had read a number of Wagner’s Grendel tales before, but not until late last year did I finally start a proper read-through. 

The original Grendel, Hunter Rose, is a character much in the mold of Hannibal Lecter, introduced by Thomas Harris only months prior to Grendel.  Wagner and Harris seem to have been playing with an idea in the cultural zeitgeist at the time (a paraphrase from an interview with Wagner).  Expanding beyond Devil by the Deed seems not to have been in the plans. Though I have no concrete information to this point, it would seem that the death of Hunter Rose at the end of that first story might bear that out, but please do not take it as gospel, merely speculation.   

Whether he had any plans past that initial foray with Grendel, Wagner was allowed to continue with more tales of his dark and distorted Robin Hood figure.  In doing so, Wagner made the bold choice to have a new character bear the mantle of Grendel, in the guise of Hunter Rose biographer and granddaughter, Christine Spar.  It was an inspired decision, one that not only helped keep the series grounded, even with its speculative near-future setting, but also afforded Wagner, and his many artistic collaborators, an opportunity to expand on the idea of evil in our society in a way that would not have been possible if constrained to a single character. 

The way Wagner changed the direction of this series with this single decision is an impressive feat.  Just as impressive, though, is how Wagner approached each new tale, utilizing a variety of approaches that makes each narrative stand out, while also (again) expanding ideas set forth in Devil by the Deed.  As I read through this series, I will be exploring some of these approaches, analyzing how they keep the narrative fresh while also building on the themes Wagner is investigating with the character of Grendel.  Look for the first one, soon.  And thanks for reading.


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