‘Grendel vs. The Shadow’ #2

Grendel vs. The Shadow #2GRVSHW-2-VARIANT-FC-FNL-82821-49ef8
Written and illustrated by Matt Wagner
Dark Horse Comics

The (relative) financial failure of Halloween III sealed the series’ sad fate: Rather than creating a new, original horror story under the Halloween banner each year, the producers returned to Michael Myers and turned out a series of ever-worse retreads.

Grendel creator Matt Wagner, on the other hand, spun pure gold by expanding beyond the world of his original anti-hero, Hunter Rose; particularly with the sublime 12-issue “Devil’s Legacy” run, in which Rose descendant Christine Spar inherited the cowl and forks.

From there, Wagner continued to re-imagine the character with each successive chapter, suggesting he had little desire to move anywhere other than forward with it.

Although Wagner has revisited Hunter Rose before (even after bringing Grendel into the distant future with “War Child” and “Devil Quest”) and engineered two Grendel/Batman crossovers, there’s something jarring about the latest incarnation: Grendel vs. The Shadow.

From the post-apocalyptic future all the way back to the 1930s New York of The Shadow? That’s going BACK in time far and fast enough to cause whiplash. What’s Wagner’s game? Is he ALL out of ideas?

Fortunately, the question is rendered moot by the sheer quality of the presentation. Plot wise we have Rose who, per this recent 001-GRVSHW2-6e2c9interview with Wagner, is at the midpoint of his criminal career when he finds himself pulled back in time and relishing the opportunity to assert his power in the new milieu.

Issue 2 of Grendel vs. The Shadow is the second of three parts and sees these evenly-matched antagonists meet in combat for the first time. The fight is wonderfully realized in clean layouts that never veer into the kind of incoherence that can plague both comics and poorly-edited action films.

The rest of the story is really just fine. Although there’s great fascination in seeing The Shadow/Lamont Cranston express awe and grudging admiration for Rose’s self-taught (and thus highly unpredictable) fighting style, there’s little new ground to be broken in stories of this ilk and time period. Visually speaking, however, Wagner handily transcends all the limitations with busy but always comprehensible panels that bleed beautifully into one another (shades of the Pender Brothers spectacular work in “Devil’s Legacy”) and a wealth of gorgeous full-page splashes that advance the story in the manner of cinematic montage. In all a fully worthwhile endeavour, though we look forward to Wagner looking forward again at some point.

– Steven Fouchard

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