Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Trade Waiting - Grendel Omnibus Volume One

Omnibus. A word that strikes both fear and excitement of equal measure into the heart of many a comic fan and justifiably so. An omnibus is a great way to experience a large chunk of a title you are interested in, often entire runs of a series or a creators contribution to a property, yet an omnibus can usually set you back a pretty penny of your monthly comic book expenditure. Dark Horse Comics, arguably the number three or four publisher in the United States depending on where your tastes lie, have for some time collected their classic licensed work into affordable omnibus packages, offsetting the usual high price with slightly lower than usual quality paper stock and instead of going oversized, shrinking the comic book dimensions to just smaller than a regular comic book. They are now doing the same with some of their non-licensed work also, continuing in the tradition of last year’s fantastic Major Bummer collection. The question is, are any of the new batch of Dark Horse Omnibus editions any good? To find out if the first one is any good, hit the jump. For the other one, tune in next week.

Grendel Omnibus Volume One: Hunter Rose
Written by Matt Wagner
Art by Matt Wagner and various (in this case, various means around forty artists)
Published by Dark Horse 

Grendel is seemingly that character that every comic book fan can recognise yet not many have actually experienced, partly due to the title’s sporadic publishing schedule and partly down to the property being treated like a hot potato in the eighties and early nineties, being pulled from each publisher to another until landing at Dark Horse. Rather than publishing the book in publication date order, Dark Horse and/or Matt Wagner have decided to publish the stories chronologically as to when they happened within the universe that Wagner created. What this means is the first Grendel Omnibus tells the entire tale of Hunter Rose, the original Grendel, even if those tales were published twenty tears apart. Contained within this massive tome is the original Grendel story, Devil by the Deed, first seen as back-ups in the first Mage mini-series, the two anthology titles that Wagner wrote with assistance from some of the industry’s best artists, (Black, White and Red and Red, White and Black respectively,) a short ‘it gets better’ tale from the Liberty Annual 2011 and finally the recent Behold the Devil mini-series. In short, there is a lot of comic book to be read.

The first Grendel Omnibus deals with Hunter Rose’s rise from assassin to mob boss and the issues and problems he overcomes along the way yet, as is the way with all good epics, it is much more than that. It is also the tale of Stacy Palumbo, a young girl that Rose adopts and has (platonic?) feelings for. Finally it is also the tale of Argent, a wolf-man who has made it his life long quest to bring Rose to justice. Like the character of Hunter Rose himself, his relationships with both Stacy and Argent are anything but simple. Grendel takes pleasure in taunting Argent yet has no reasons to do so apart from his own twisted sense of humour. Likewise, his relationship with Stacy is one that is unlike everything else in the comic. Whereas Rose, regardless of when he is being Grendel or not, is a being of no emotions towards his fellow man, his feelings towards Stacy are full of fatherly love and attentiveness, something that actually makes the character of Rose even more disturbing when put into context of the way he treats everyone else. Adding to the sense of discomfort are the reasons why Rose does what he does. Treating life like a chess board, Rose has no emotional response to winning (something he does often,) nor does he care for the lives he ruins and leaves behind. Literally, it is all a game with no consequence short of being the best, something that is quite refreshing in a world where villains have to have reasons to become bad. Rose just wants it.

It’s a wise move to put all of the Hunter Rose stories together, regardless of when they were published as it certainly helps to build the world in which Hunter Rose inhabits. There are times when some of the tales contained overlap with each other but rather than feeling like retreading old ground, actually flesh out Wagner’s vision of a New York underworld run by a masked sociopath. Nowhere is this more explicit than within the two anthology series contained where half the time the character of Hunter Rose is inconsequential, sometime not even appearing in the strip, yet even when not on the page Hunter Rose haunts the characters involved, showing you how everyone from small time crooks to congressmen are just mere players within Grendel’s vision for his city.

Matt Wagner is a name that can sometimes be left out of the ‘best creators during the halcyon days of the mid to late eighties,’ yet nothing can be farther from the truth, without a doubt his name deserves to be mentioned alongside Moore, Miller, Sim, and the like. A testament to this is how the book feels like it was written together rather than twenty five years plus apart, such is his tight plotting and clear direction of where he wants the character to go. Part of this is due to the entire story of Hunter Rose being told in the first forty pages of the book, leaving the rest to flesh out what happened between those first pages, but there is no doubt that it is also down to Wagner’s abilities as not just a writer but a creator of worlds. Wagner deftly uses Grendel to not just tell crime stories but also ones of love, betrayal, and obsession, doing so convincingly. The differing loves that Hunter feels for both Stacy and Jocasta Rose, the betrayal that Stacy experiences, the obsession that destroys everything that Argent has; these are all integral to the story of Hunter Rose and Wagner pushes these beats through without it ever feeling forced.

As an artist, Matt Wagner is no slouch. Handling the art chores on about a third of this omnibus, Wagner shows a consistent art style that is both clean and expressive. Of particular note are his panel layouts in the original Devil by the Deed story, building pages around a focal picture or utilising off kilter shapes to construct pages long before JH Williams made it cool to do so. The other artists involved are basically a murderer’s row of some of the best talent working in the industry, varying in styles. Wagner lets the artists play to their strengths also so when Jill Thompson is drawing a tale, Wagner writes it like a children’s story book. When David Mack is drawing a tale it has an almost free flow Kabuki like feel to it. If those names don’t float your boat, how about Teddy Kristiansen? Or Jason Pearson? Or Mike Allred? Or Tom Fowler? Or Jim Mahfood? Or Stan Sakai? Honestly, that is just scratching the surface of the kind of artists that are expected to be seen within these pages.

Verdict – Must Buy

The twenty five dollar price point makes it intriguing, as does the six hundred plus page count, but what really makes Grendel a triumph is Matt Wagner’s vision and clear, concise storytelling, (not to mention his fantastic art,) and the sheer amount of talent on display within the pages. Even if the story isn’t down to your tastes as an art book alone this is an absolute master class on display. Truly one of the best collected editions of the year, and without a doubt one of the greatest comic tales seen in the modern era. Plus, the costume is unbelievably cool.

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Filrouge said...

I know it couldn't be done, but it lacks Batman/Grendel Devil's Riddle to be perfect.

Lucky said...

That was really nice :) Free Computer Games ~ Freeware Softwares

Unknown said...

It would be nice if the original Comico Primer story and the first 3 issues of Grendel that preceded the Mage backup stories were in there. Although I own them, to have them in a collected format would be a plus. But given that they are somewhat amateurish (compared to Wagner's later works) and are retold in the "Devil by the Deed" Mage backups, Wagner probably doesn't want them reprinted.

Unknown said...

It would be nice if the original Comico Primer story and the first 3 issues of Grendel that preceded the Mage backup stories were in there. Although I own them, to have them in a collected format would be a plus. But given that they are somewhat amateurish (compared to Wagner's later works) and are retold in the "Devil by the Deed" Mage backups, Wagner probably doesn't want them reprinted.

Mike-El said...

I had already read most of this omnibus in various trades over the years, but after reading your review I still got all psyched up about it and bought it anyways. Reading it all at once is a much different, much richer experience than when I read it initially, and it was well worth the money. I don't totally understand why he arranged it the way he did (it's not strictly chronologically... the Mage backups, BWR, and RWB overlap completely, but with different details), but it's a great order to read it in. Both my wife and my little brother want to read it when I'm done now.

One nice thing I didn't realize was that between this, my Batman/Grendel collection (which, awesomely, is canon in thr Grendelverse), and my signed Grendel Archives hardcover, I actually own the complete Hunter Rose saga, which is kind of cool.

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