Created in the 1980s by Matt Wagner, Grendel is more of a primal force of nature than a specific, individual character. Beginning with the brilliant and seductive yet ruthless and sociopathic killer Hunter Rose and concluding with the invincible cyborg Grendel-Prime, Wagner explores the nature of violence itself in an ambitious, sophisticated and bloody narrative that spans centuries into the future.
The very long and non-linear publishing history of the Grendel saga has made it daunting for new readers to discover the grim world of Wagner’s creation, which is a shame because it is incredibly compelling and genuinely beautiful. My hope is that this post will help curious parties find their ways into the world of Grendel and avail themselves of the great graphic literature that Dark Horse has seen fit to reprint lovingly in a number of recent volumes.
Many Grendel readers will have their own versions of this roadmap, but this is the one that makes the most sense to me, and the one that puts the best of Wagner’s work up front.
The beginning, the end, and the one Grendel book all readers must own. Hunter Rose is an unmatched genius, best-selling novelist, olympic-level athlete, charismatic socialite, and, secretly, the legendary masked crime lord Grendel. An easy description would be: imagine if Batman was a villain. Like Bruce Wayne, Rose is so rich that he could set fire to his ill-gotten gains, it doesn't matter. All that does matter is Grendel's relentless quest to utterly dominate every single person in New York. Grendel knows all. He sees all. He cannot be stopped.
Devil by the Deed tells the story of Hunter Rose in 48 of the most beautiful pages I've ever seen. Wagner's story is classic -- all subsequently published Hunter Rose stories take place between the events of this most critical volume -- but the gorgeous art deco illustrations are reasons enough to read this book. I can't say it enough, Devil by the Deed is beautiful.
While actually produced about 20 years after Devil by the Deed, the Black, White, & Red volume comes next chronologically. Hunter Rose is the most essential component of the Grendel mythos and, in my view, the most engaging character. More so than with any of the subsequent Grendel vessels, Wagner gets so deeply into Rose's head that the villain almost becomes real. If you're like me, you will wait until the middle of the night to read Hunter Rose stories and fully immerse yourself in his dark and horrible world of aggression and blood. But should you choose to go on to the legacy characters and their incredible tales, the more you understand about Rose, the greater the sense of dread will you feel in the later stories.
Black, White, & Red features many short stories of Hunter Rose and his bloody empire, each one illustrated by a different luminarie of the comic book medium. Such artists include: John Paul Leon (Earth X), Tim Sale (Batman: The Long Halloween), Duncan Fegredo (Hellboy), D'Israeli (Lazarus Churchyard), Ho Che Anderson (Young Hoods in Love), C. Scott Morse (Soulwind), Bernie Mireault (Dr. Robot), Paul Chadwick (Concrete), Tim Bradstreet (Maximum Black), David Mack (Kabuki), Guy Davis (Sandman Mystery Theatre), the Pander Brothers (Secret Broadcast), Stan Shaw (Sunglasses After Dark), Jay Geldhof (The Lost), Teddy Kristiansen (House of Secrets), Jason Pearson (Body Bags), Woodrow Phoenix (Sugar Buzz), Troy Nixey (Trout), Chris Sprouse (Supreme), and Dean Motter (Mister X).
Black, White, & Red was released to much acclaim and earned a number of Will Eisner Awards, the comics industry's equivalent of the Oscars. Red, White, & Black continues that award-winning format and features new Hunter Rose stories illustrated by Zander Cannon, Andy Kuhn, Ashley Wood, Tom Fowler, Mike Huddleston, Cliff Chiang, John K. Snyder, and more, including Wagner himself.
Both Black, White, & Red and Red, White, & Black are currently out-of-print, but they can still be found inexpensively on Amazon.com and on the shelves in many comics stores.
Hunter Rose continued to rack up Eisner nominations in Behold the Devil, the first Grendel story in ten years entirely drawn by Wagner. A complete epic in one volume, Behold the Devil follows the original Grendel through a period of his life so traumatic that he ripped the associated pages from his journal -- which, within the world of the Grendel mythos, is how anyone knows anything about Hunter Rose and his true, terrifying nature. In the story, which is set early in Rose's criminal career, Grendel's identity comes under close examination by a driven detective and an intuitive reporter, forcing the Devil to take drastic measures that go against everything he thought he was.
The latest project in the Grendel saga, I finished reading Behold the Devil in one sitting only last night, and it was this most excellent book that inspired me to compile this information.
Chronologically the first story to take place after Rose's demise and the only one on this list not written by Matt Wagner, Devil Child is a painfully close look at the destruction of little Stacy Palumbo, Hunter Rose's adopted daughter, in the aftermath of Grendel's sensational unmasking. Not for the faint of heart, Devil Child is perhaps the most grounded and realistic story in the Grendel pantheon, exploring the consequences of mixing violence and trauma with love and devotion. The book is expertly written by longtime Grendel editor Diana Schutz and illustrated by superstar Batman artist Tim Sale with Teddy Kristiansen, and it is gorgeous.
Devil Child is out-of-print but still available cheaply on Amazon.com and in many comics stores.
In the mythos of Grendel, Devil by the Deed is the name of a book by Christine Spar, daughter of Stacy Palumbo, that tells the story of Hunter Rose as gleaned through his journals as well as police reports, press clippings and the author's own personal knowledge of events. Devil's Legacy is the story of Christine Spar and her succumbing to the spirit of Grendel. The solicitation copy on Dark Horse's website describes this story much better than I could:
The author of the definitive account of Grendel's life, Spar is living the life of a minor celebrity, but that's all about to change. The very subject which propelled her to success is about to drag her into a dark pit of despair and anger. Soon Spar's life of metropolitan leisure will be eclipsed by that which sleeps within her, the bitter blade of Grendel and the desire for brutal balance: an eye for an eye, a death for a death. Along the way, she will find tragic love, take many lives, suffer a badly battered body, and take on the old foe of her adoptive grandfather, Hunter Rose.
I must confess I am not a fan of the illustrations in Devil's Legacy. The Pander Bros. artwork is certainly skillful and absolutely unique, but it just doesn't appeal to my sensibilities, especially with my being such a fan of Wagner's art deco stylings.
Devil's Legacy is out-of-print but still available cheaply on Amazon.com and in many comics stores.
Vexingly, I have not read this one! And it's in print! Here is the description from Dark Horse:
The spirit of Grendel seethes in the mind of everyone it encounters. A touch of death, of fear, of anger infects all, gripping at the soul, and wreaking havoc on the lives of those in its path. In this now-classic chapter of the Grendel saga, we return to Brian Li Sung, a once-successful Broadway stage manager who became Grendel after losing the love of his life--the granddaughter of the original Grendel, Hunter Rose. Now down and out, living in the slums of Brooklyn, Li Sung struggles as an off-off-off-Broadway stage manager by day; by night, he stews in the hatred and violence that is Grendel, and becomes a cold-blooded killer. When old friends can't help him, and the city can no longer cope with this scourge of destruction, it's up to one desperate cop to stop the murderous rampage, or die trying.
Sounds pretty good!
Written and drawn by Matt Wagner, the tales contained in this volume are Hunter Rose stories told in the future by the last policeman to have any personal knowledge of the Grendel cases. The art and storytelling in Devil Tales is very experimental and not just in the visual sense; Wagner also redefines what the Grendel series can be. Up until this point, the spirit or essence of Grendel -- which is to say, the primal forces of violence and aggression themselves -- have manifested in one person in a mask and then moved on to another. In Devil Tales, we see that force infect multiple people at once, setting the stage for years of stories to come.
Devil Tales is currently out-of-print. Used copies are not hard to find but they can be somewhat expensive, around 20 dollars or more. As I said, I consider all the Hunter Rose material to be essential, especially that drawn by Wagner himself, so I think it's worth buying.
This is where my expertise ends, I'm afraid. I have purchased God and the Devil, which has been described as Wagner's magnum opus, and intend to read it soon. I'm reliably informed that from here on out, the Grendel mythos goes off the proverbial chain, so I'm looking forward to reading it -- especially because all this material is currently in print and easily available.
From Dark Horse:
In the centuries since the mask of Grendel was last seen, humanity's survived a third World War, the fall of Western Civilization, and the rise of an all-powerful church state. But when the depraved Pope Innocent XLII begins construction of a new church tower hiding a powerful and deadly secret, two men will rise against the church's corruption. One is Orion Assante, a man determined to expose the Pope for who he really is. The other is a mysterious figure wearing the all-too-familiar face of Grendel!
Grendel: God and the Devil masterfully interweaves sanity with madness, churches with corporations, and good with evil in one of the most stunning and prophetic stories of modern comics.
From Dark Horse:
The year is 2530, and the corrupt Church, Vatican Ouest, has fallen, spreading upheaval across North America, along with an infestation of vampires. In this new world, Ex-COP leader Pellon Cross is still at large, devil-possessed Eppy Thatcher is missing, and Orion Assante is on an ambitious quest to restore order to the continent and gain legitimate power. But will Orion attain his goals before threats from overseas change the rules in this game for power?
Grendel: Devil's Reign is a groundbreaking synthesis of politics, war, religion, and the devil created by two of the top talents in comics!
From Dark Horse:
Matt Wagner's Eisner Award-winning tale of the post-holocaust Grendel-ruled planet in ruins remains vital and entertaining. The Grendel-Khan, Orion Assante, is dead, leaving his only son as heir, a political pawn for the Khan's widow. The passing of the Khan, the military ruler of the earth, left the world warrior society in fragments, the once-controlled planet shattered into rival clans and apocalyptic zombies. But the Khan left a paladin behind to protect his only son from political ping-pong, a half-man, half-machine weapon of ultimate destruction: Grendel-Prime! Upon kidnapping the rightful heir from his mother's "protection," Prime begins a high-speed chase, ending the lives of many and ultimately deciding the fate of the tattered world. As it did when first printed, Grendel: War Child features dynamic pencils by Patrick McEown and dynamic colors by Bernie Mireault.
From Dark Horse:
Matt Wagner's award-winning comics series takes on new life as an illustrated prose novel, written by acclaimed wordsmith Greg Rucka, renowned for his popular crime novels featuring detective Atticus Kodiak (Keeper, Finder, Smoker). The ranks of Grendel warriors have now disintegrated into leaderless anarchy, but a savior exists, and one lone Grendel seeks the key to restoring the empire--and she won't take no for an answer. Writer Greg Rucka (Whiteout) tells this compelling story of Susan Veraghen's search for Grendel-Prime. With 50 striking pen-and-ink illustrations and a stunning cover painting by Grendel creator Matt Wagner, Grendel: Past Prime is fast-paced, hard-edged adventure laced with thematic depth and visual firepower.
From Dark Horse:
In seven chapters, all written and lusciously painted by Wagner, the deadly cyborg Grendel-Prime pursues the past with singular purpose, even while the decadent and decaying world he has forsaken hunts him for reasons of its own. With each chapter a twisted relation to the children's rhyme, "Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief," this tightly crafted work is an essential piece of the Grendel canon, and a tie-in to Wagner's popular Batman/Grendel series.
This volume collects the two Batman/Grendel crossover series written and drawn by Matt Wagner. They are both canonical as far as Grendel is concerned, and they are both fucking awesome. The first one, where Batman meets Hunter Rose, is possibly one of the best Batman stories produced by anybody, for reasons both obvious and subtle. The second story finds the cyborg Grendel-Prime time traveling to Gotham City to retrieve the skull of Hunter Rose, no matter the cost.
This is the book you buy if you can't find any of the previous stories. Unfortunately, Grendel Cycle is also out of print!
Grendel Cycle is basically a sourcebook for the mythos of Grendel, summarizing the major movements of the epic alongside new artwork by the series' key collaborators. The book is extremely helpful and worth seeking out, especially for the eight-page Grendel primer by Wagner, which is one of my all-time favorite bits of comic book storytelling.
Before Wagner tightened the focus on the Grendel concept in Devil by the Deed, he created some little black-and-white Grendel comics in the form of now-defunct publisher Comico's Primer #2 and Grendel #1-3. These stories are the first appearances of Hunter Rose as well as Wagner's first published work. Not necessarily canonical, the material reprinted in Grendel Archives is quite good despite its relative unsophistication, and serious Grendel fans will enjoy watching the creator and character take their first steps together.