By Kayleigh Hearn
“And as to the problem of Dominic Riley…”
Like the devil whispering in your ear, the narration in Grendel is insidious, intimate, and irresistible. Grendel is about the spirit of aggression – a metaphorical (and, later, very literal) demon that takes hold of a human host and beguiles them into becoming the masked anti-hero Grendel. For creator Matt Wagner, narration boxes are invaluable metatextual tools. Disguised as journal entries and book excerpts, narration adds texture to Grendel, giving a lived-in history to the forty-year-old saga that began with the art deco-inspired adventures of the first Grendel to the dystopian nightmare of the cyborg Grendel Prime. These little boxes are also windows into the minds of the men and women who become Grendel — and the demons that drive them.
Christine Spar is the protagonist and narrator of the first Grendel ongoing series. She is also the granddaughter, biographer, and successor of the original Grendel, Hunter Rose – in that order. Unlike Hunter’s gentleman criminal, Christine becomes the second Grendel for revenge, eventually killing the physical embodiment of her generational trauma. A prolific writer, her journal entries are the bones underneath the meat of Grendel. But in Grendel #9, Christine goes silent.
Aside from twelve words split between the first and last pages, Grendel #9 is a silent comic. Published three years after Larry Hama’s groundbreaking G.I. Joe #21, the issue has no word bubbles and relies on striking imagery. The plot is as direct as a fork in the gut: Grendel hunts down Dominic Riley, the crooked cop who assaulted her lover, Brian Li Sung. Drawn by the Pander Brothers, Grendel looks like a Patrick Nagel poster dipped in acid. Grendel is 1987’s heavily stylized view of the 2020s, complete with flying cars – but there is grit under the chrome.
This issue is suspenseful, even sadistic, in its silence. Grendel stalks Riley from his first step out of his hotel to the first light of dawn. She appears in fragments: a reflection in a mirror, a hand pushing him off a subway platform (a Good Samaritan pulls him back). Riley’s paranoia bleeds into the real world, distorting it; the Pander Brothers mutate their art into something chaotic and grotesque.
The rational world breaks down. At a 24-hour diner, a former bastion of banality, Riley drinks alongside aliens, mummies, and a man eating his own head. Human bones litter train tracks. Riley sees Grendel’s mask and fires his laser gun, destroying only a window display promoting Christine’s book about Hunter Rose. Even the conventional rules of the comic medium decay in this densely-packed, detail-heavy issue. Grendel drops bricks on Riley from a rooftop, and one rips through the panel borders and white gutter like paper.
When Riley thinks he’s survived the night, a gloved hand grabs him, and forked blades relieve the cop of his trigger-happy fingers. The chase is over. Grendel cuts her puppet’s strings, fatally impaling Riley. The last page finally reveals Grendel: a deadly masked figure in black and white (and red). So powerful that she breaks free of the panel frames behind her, like a demon flung out of hell.
Despite the thrill of the hunt, Dominic Riley is so small and pathetic that he barely rates a mention in Grendel’s journal. Christine’s narration returns, her words chilling and triumphant in their finality:
“Eventually, I killed him.”
Grendel #9: “Devil’s Revenge”
Writer: Matt Wagner
Artists and Inkers: Arnold & Jacob Pander
Color: Jeremy Cox
Letterer: Steve Haynie
Kayleigh Hearn is the comics reviews editor for WomenWriteAbout Comics, and has written for publications including The MNT and Deadshirt. You can drop some money in her Ko-Fi account right here, and follow her on Twitter here!
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