When we last left the Grendel Saga, we had learned the contents of the missing pages from Hunter Rose’s journal, in which he learned the truth of his destiny and was given a glimpse of the future he would bring about. Continuing in the consecutive storytelling style set previously, Volume 2 presents four tales that further our understanding of the force that is Grendel and it’s impact on everyone it touches.
In “Devil Child,” (art by Tim Sale), Diana Shutz asks the question, “Is there really a Happily Ever After once you kill the monster?” In telling the story of Hunter Rose’s ward, Stacy Palumbo, ward of Hunter Rose/Grendel, friend of the cursed Wolf, Argent, and instigator of their final battle to the death, Schutz determines that once in Grendel’s sway, nothing is ever the same. Confined to a mental institution, Stacy finds herself haunted by the past that overwhelms her, and her own dark deeds, and learns that the shadow of Grendel is longer than she could ever imagine.
But, if living in the shadow of Grendel has its price, embracing his mantle comes at a far greater cost, one learned in excruciating detail by Christine Spar in the second tale, “Devil’s Legacy,” written by Matt Wagner, with pencils by the IMMENSELY TALENTED Arnold and Jacob Pander, and inks by the Pander Brothers, Jay Geldhof, and Rich Rankin. Originally published by Comico in 1985-87, “Legacy” served as the relaunching of the Grendel saga and set in motion the events that would continue for the next quarter century in a tale that spans centuries.
Dubbed “Grendel’s granddaughter,” the abandoned child of Stacy Palumbo, Christine is the author of “Devil By the Deed” (See Volume 1), accepted as THE definitive biography of Hunter Rose/Grendel [published shortly before this tale begins]. When her son goes missing after a Kabuki performance, Christine finds herself helpless and the police ineffective, and decides to take matters into her own hands.
Calling upon her skills as a reporter, Christine deduces that the lead dancer of the Kabuki troupe, the flamboyant, white-maned Tujiro XIV, may have a part in her son’s disappearance. Stealing the original mask and fork of Grendel, Christine sets out to San Francisco to find her answers. In investigating Tujiro and the troupe, she begins to fall in love with Brian Li Sung, a stage manager, but finds him being imperiled but her growing embrace of Grendel’s legacy. And, while originally fearing her son’s abduction into white slavery, Christine learns that Tujiro may not be what he seems, and that her son may have suffered a much darker fate. But, as she begins to embrace that identify more and more, her actions grow increasingly violent and sadistic, attracting the attention of Captain Wiggins, a cybernetic-eyed New York detective who turns for help to the only other living being with any experience with Grendel: his crippled arch-enemy, the wolf Argent.
While the meat of this volume lies in these two tales, it is “Devil’s Legacy” that serves as a time capsule into the era in which it was created. Bright and vibrant, even the shadows seem to pop in these pages, and the darks themselves pulse with a rich underlife. Stylish and angular, the artwork flows like Nagel prints with long-legged, spiky-haired characters moving through geometric landscapes of new wave sensibilities.
But, more than just a pop-art showcase, “Devil’s Legacy” also serves to lay the groundwork for the meat of the stories to follow. This is world-building at its best, with hints at the growing strength of the media and a burgeoning obsession with Grendel, not as the alter-ego of Hunter Rose, but Grendel as a force, a presence unto itself with the strength of myth growing behind it, which would come to fruition in issues 20-23 of the Comico run, unofficially called “The Incubation Years” and the subsequent ten-issue arc of “God and the Devil” (hopefully all to be captured in Volume 3).
Following up on that powerhouse tale, “The Devil Inside,” written by Wagner with art by Bernie Mireault, completes the tale of Brian Li Sung, Christine’s lover and the last person to see her alive. Pursued by Captain Wiggins in search of Christine’s missing journals, Brian finds himself being consumed by a growing aggression and the belief that Grendel is speaking directly to him, ordering him to take action. And, when he constructs his own Grendel mask, Brian finds that he may be starting down a dark trail that he may never escape.
Wiggins also plays narrator for the Final story, a matched set of “Devil Tales,” told by the now-retired Captain Wiggins, luxuriating on a tropical beach while sipping drinks. Having been the last person to deal with the Grendel persona, Wiggins has resisted all efforts to tell the tales of Christine Spar and Brian Li Sung, instead focusing on tales of the original Grendel, Hunter Rose. In the first, Wiggins relates the story of Lt. Lewis Polk, who begins investigating what at first seems like an ordinary case of police corruption, only to find himself ensnared in a deeper and more dangerous web.
Told in simple 5x5 grids, the tale written and drawn by Wagner initially unfolds like a by-the-numbers detective story, but by the end finds its simple order being overwhelmed and consumed by the shadow that is Grendel.
The second tale, also told by Wiggins in the follow-up to the phenomenal response to his first book, expands the story of Tommy Nuncio, a small-time underworld informant briefly named in “Devil by the Deed.” In Wiggins' version of the tale, we get to see both sides of the creative process, with Wiggins' notes of how to present the story, and Tommy’s initially bland narrative that grows ever more paranoid as he realizes that he may have been set-up by the Devil himself.
While spanning as many years as Volume One in actual storytelling time, Volume Two comes off as the more cohesive set thus far. The daring playfulness inherent in the storytelling and artwork is indicative of the master storyteller flexing his muscles at a younger age, while much of the material included in Volume One represents a deeper examination of the story and form, as much of that volume was published after the bulk of material in this volume.
Most fascinating is comparing the strength of storytelling of the main female characters in these arcs, Stacy Palumbo and Christine Spar. While Stacy seeks to both protect and escape her memories of the Devil, Christine first embraces then is consumed by Grendel. Both very different stories, both with multi-dimensional, well-defined female characters, coming from positions of strength and weakness.
My advice? Don't try to read these all in one sitting. Chew off a piece and chew it slowly. This is rich storytelling, and you’ll want to make it last as long as possible . . . at least until the highly-anticipated Volume 3 comes out next Spring.
VERDICT: HIGHLY RECOMMEND