Friday, February 27, 2015

MATT WAGNER’S GRENDEL: interweaving craft & theme [part 1]

Devil by the Deed & Devil’s Legacy

Devil by the Deed is an interesting comic.  As noted by Alan Moore, who wrote the introduction to the initial Comico collection, published as an oversized graphic novel, Wagner’s story is not a traditional comic and feels more like illustrated prose.  With blocks of text placed over wonderfully designed single and double-page illustrations, it certainly had few, if any equivalents – regarding its storytelling approach – on the comic racks of the early 80s.  It not only adds seriousness to the narrative, but also lends distance to the story that affords it a perspective and a weight that might not be possible in a traditional comic narrative.  This distance also imbues the story of Hunter Rose with a legendary quality that elevates the character while also diluting some of his more nasty attributes, allowing readers to better relate to Rose, and to Grendel.  It’s a smart approach that not only made this work stand out when it was published, but also infuses it with a timelessness that makes Devil by the Deed as impactful today, thirty-three years on. 

With Devil’s Legacy, the mantle of Grendel is passed over – or, more to the point, seized – by Christine Spar, Hunter Rose’s granddaughter and biographer.  Confronted with the embodiment of evil, in the form of Tujiro XIV, a Kabuki performer who kidnaps and kills children, including Christine’s adopted son, Spar takes up the mask and forked staff of her biographical subject and hunts down Tujiro, since the police seem unable, or unwilling, to do anything about her son’s disappearance. 

Devil’s Legacy is a tale of revenge, and Wagner, along with the Pander Bros. who provide the art for these twelve chapters, crafts this story as a traditional comic, but not without some inventiveness in the layouts.  In order to get into the head of Spar, Wagner fills the pages with captions – a log kept by Spar as she hunts down Tujiro.  In this way, Wagner can more deftly include exposition readers might need to follow the story, while also affording the audience an opportunity to see into Spar’s mind, taking readers one step closer to the evil on the page (as compared to the distanced, second-hand narrative of Devil by the Deed).  This change in narrative approach allows Wagner, and the Pander Bros., to delve more deeply into the themes of Grendel. 

Christine Spar, an innocent woman becomes consumed with grief and rage, confusion and anger, until she reaches the bottom and becomes a killer.  As with Hunter Rose, there is a method to the madness – or, at least in both cases, a justification in the minds of those asserting the Grendel name – but, despite the good that might come from some of their actions, and Christine’s in particular, the ugliness that lay at the heart of Grendel is not something to be applauded. 

There is a dark soul of evil haunting these works, one that becomes more obvious as Wagner digs more deeply into his narrative, corrupting all it touches.  And, through his creative choices, Wagner allows his audience to slowly get closer to this evil, to understand it more fully, and, eventually, to touch its chilled fingers. 


NEXT:  The Devil Inside & Devil Tales

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