After acquiring a rare antiquity, modern-era crime boss Hunter Rose finds himself transported back in time to the 1930s, with New York’s mob scene at a flashpoint. As Don Carlo Luppino lays dying, the tenuous peace between the Five Families threatens to unravel, as each organization prepares to make its own power grab, negotiating new alliances amongst themselves as they jockey for position.
But, with the arrival of the masked master criminal known only as Grendel, they find themselves facing a threat far advanced from anything they’ve ever faced and at the mercy of a force they can’t even begin to fathom. But, someone else can.
Steeped in the mystical arts, millionaire playboy Lamont Cranston takes an interest in the impact this new wild card is having in his city, because as its protector, The Shadow knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men . . . and he’s going to stop it before it begins to claim innocent lives.
Matt Wagner’s Hunter Rose/Grendel has always has an air of romance about it. Ostensibly set in modern times, it’s carried a timelessness that allows it to take feel comfortable in nearly any era before. Wagner’s best previous renderings of the Hunter Rose saga have always had a clean, strong art-deco feel (Devil By The Deed), but, for the first time, he’s set his hero firmly in the “Golden Age of Gangsters.”
His previous writing efforts in that arena pay off nicely here. After arcs of Sandman Mystery Theater, Green Hornet: Year One, and 2013’s The Shadow: Year One, Wagner takes the reins of artist himself, bringing the era to life without straying too far from his traditional Grendel pallet of black, white, and red. Starting with a flat wash of those colors mirroring Hunter’s boredom, the pages are sharp and clear and reflective of his talented hand, but explode into life when son Brennan Wagner’s colors take over with Hunter’s jump to the past.
Greedy criminals. Flamboyant villains and stalwart heroes. Wisecracking dames in great dresses. And, the nightlife of New York City as it hasn’t been seen on 80 years. There’s something to be said about when a storyteller is at his peak, firing on all cylinders, and this is only the first issue.
“There’s something about him you must understand . . . Despite all his disguises and aliases, there is a part of him that remains ever constant – the quest for justice. His shadow never wavers.”
Verdict: Five Bloody Harlequin Masks out of Five