Musings on Matt Wagner’s ‘Grendel Omnibus Volume 1’

August 31st, 2012 by

“No, let me tell you about true power. And, in using that term, I don’t mean simple capacity.”

Grendel Omnibus Volume 1

I’ll be honest, Matt Wagner‘s Grendel mythos has always been on the outskirts of my comic book radar. My first exposure to it came when one day in the mid-1990’s I randomly decided to grab the Grendel: War Child trade paperback, mostly because Grendel Prime looked absolutely badass on the cover and I’m a sucker for a good cover. The story was interesting enough to eventually lead me to pick up the Batman/Grendel crossover books, which is where I got my first dose of Hunter Rose.

Let’s clear one thing up right away concerning the first Grendel, Hunter Rose…he’s a villain. He’s a cold-blooded sociopath whose amazing physical and mental prowess are matched only by his drive to dominate and control. Grendel directs his criminal empire with the same surgical precision he wields his twin-bladed staff with, and he has no qualms about cutting through anyone who gets in the way of his desires.

That said, Matt Wagner’s Grendel makes for a fascinating read, and with the recent release of the Grendel Omnibus Volume 1: Hunter Rose it’s as easy as ever to access most of the material that was written about this character. At nearly 600 black, white, and red (I’d call it full color, but really…I’d be lying) pages, the softcover book is impressively dense, although it’s a smaller format than your typical comic book. I don’t really see this as detracting from the overall quality of the book, but then again I’ve read plenty of digest-sized manga in the past. YMMV.

Now I do want to point out that the stories contained within this omnibus aren’t your typical issue-by-issue comic book fare. The book consists primarily of unconnected short stories and vignettes that show you how Grendel operates and why, if you happen to live in his fictional world, you should never, EVER want to be anywhere near him. Your odds of meeting a grisly end increase dramatically just by seeing the guy. Unless, of course, you’re his adopted daughter Stacy (the only human he cares about), or the mysterious wolf creature Argent.

The stories included are all written by Matt Wagner himself, but feature a wide variety of different artists, such as Mike Allred, Tim Sale, and Jill Thompson, who each put their own visual stamp on the character. There is a very noir feel with a number of these stories, some of which deviate from your typical comic book panel style of storytelling. For example, one story is told completely in haiku, while another features a single image and a paragraph of text per page.  I found that these stylistic choices added to the overall charm of this omnibus.

Another unique aspect of the book lies in the fact that the first story, Devil by the Deed, is a faux historical narrative that actually lays out the entire Hunter Rose saga, beginning to end, within the first 40 pages. Definitely not a traditional way of presenting a character to the world, but it works pretty well. Most of the stories contained within this volume work towards fleshing out the major events during Grendel’s reign of terror, or simply exist to show you how things get done Grendel-style.   A few tales relate the experiences of those around Hunter Rose, and how his existence as the Grendel affects their lives.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever had a passing interest in Grendel or Matt Wagner‘s work. The stylistic shifts in writing and art should keep the reader on their toes and the book never feels too long since most of the stories are short and self-contained. Dark Horse has three more Grendel Omnibus volumes planned which will follow the exploits of the various characters that took up the mantle of the Grendel after Hunter Rose. Personally, I can’t wait to get my hands on them.