WRITER: MATT WAGNER
ARTIST: MATT WAGNER
PUBLISHER: DC/DARK HORSE
RELEASE DATE: 1993
MAYBE THE BEST INTERCOMPANY CROSSOVER YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF!
Recently Matt Wagner’s creation made news as the latest comic book property to get their own TV series. But Who is Grendel? Where did he come from? Well, Grendel is a character created by Matt Wagner in the early 1980s. Originally with comic company Comico Grendel, the character eventually ended up at Dark Horse comics in the early 1990s where he remains to this day. But who exactly is the character? And why does he make a great foil for Batman? This first mini-series written and drawn by Grendel’s creator attempts to answer these questions.
Let me give you some quick background. Grendel, AKA Hunter Rose, was created to be a villain that starts as an assassin but would quickly take over organized crime in New York City. Moreover, he has an amazing costume design. It’s modeled after a fencer uniform (a sport a young Hunter would excel at) but with contrasting black and white features. A full mask with white eyes not unlike Spider-man’s mask, but far more intimidating. His choice of weapon is a staff with a two-prong fork on the end. He is young but a naturally gifted athlete akin to Dick Grayson.
For the sake of this story, Grendel and Batman are depicted as already residing in the same universe rather than two different comic companies. There was no JLA/Avengers type of Crisis to explain the crossover, which was rather unique. Yet even as the story unfolds and becomes more and more complex, the main plot of the story is rather simple. Grendel rules New York and is bored. His usual opponent, a mysterious Wolf, is missing and Grendel is looking for some fun. So, he decides to travel to Gotham City to pull off a crime just to match wits with Batman.
The story is told from four different perspectives. Batman and Grendel’s obviously, as well as two female characters introduced. Hildie and Fergie, who become intertwined with Bruce Wayne and Hunter Rose respectively. Coincident, Hildie and Fergie are also roommates. While the narration boxes are color-coded for each character, the four points of view jump around a lot on each page.
So why is this the best intercompany crossover you’ve likely never heard of? Well for starters, the characters fit perfectly in each other’s world. If you didn’t know Grendel was from Dark Horse you would just assume he’s a new addition to Batman’s rogue’s gallery. While Grendel is a killer (and he does kill a lot of people in this story), murder is not his goal but rather a tool to accomplish his goals.
His purpose here is to pull a heist of an Egyptian Sphinx on display at a museum in Gotham. While to some this might seem like a boring and mundane crime to involve these two characters, it’s actually refreshing to have such a perceived small-level crime story. Rather than most Batman stories that involve serial killers and/or “battling for the Soul of Gotham” over-the-top stories, this story was somewhat restorative. Think of this story as the movie “Heat” where two foes are trying to anticipate the other’s next move.
When Grendel and Batman do finally fight it’s worth it. Wagner as the artist painstakingly choreographs each move and action. Heck, even to a mind-boggling 25-panel single-page final fight scene! Furthermore, the art and story are reminiscent of Batman: Year One. While never specified, this feels early in Batman’s career. He has his toys. But not a full-blown arsenal. Here Batman is not the “Batgod” we have in modern comics. There is a pulpy crime noir feel throughout the story that like I said reminds you of Year One. In fact, Wagner uses an old pulp troupe where he uses a fancy social club for the rich to showcase where several of our characters first meet. Wagner employs a variety of techniques throughout. His panel layout is unlike most comics. He jumps between large spreads to very small boxes with text to get across a lot of information per page. This was often seen in 1980’s indie-style comics. Today’s audience if reading for the first time may find all that narration from so many sources hard to follow.
So how does Grendel fair against Batman? Unlike most foes Batman has fought, for much of the story, Grendel prefers to work behind the scenes. He likes to manipulate everyone around him and uses information like a weapon, which makes him a different type of antagonist for Batman to fight. It’s not that Grendel is not a fighter. Far from it. His skills with a blade are displayed throughout the story. But unlike the Arkham crowd, Grendel is not insane. He for the most part has control over his actions. In a twist, he even goes so far as to lead Batman to believe the criminal he is hunting is not Grendel but another Batvillian.
Batman/Grendel is a tight fast-paced story that places two characters that feel like a perfect counterpoint to each other together flawlessly. While DC and Dark Horse have reprinted other intercompany crossovers in trade, there is not one for this currently available. There is a long out-of-print trade that collects this story and its sequel. Yes, there is a sequel with a different person wearing the Grendel mask. After Hunter Rose, there would be several people to wear his mask. To explain Grendel’s long history would require a much longer article. That being said, you don’t need to know Grendel’s history to read this first mini-series. Everything is easily in place for the reader to follow.