The story of Hunter Rose is one I find most fascinating.
I don’t just mean the in universe story of the character, but the publishing history too. Grendel is one of the most unique storytelling exercises in comics, building on legacy and permutations. I mean, for the longest time there were even hardly any Hunter Rose stories, the bed rock of that legacy. The original Comico series was unfinished, leaving readers hanging after the third issue.
When Matt Wagner returned with a second series, it focused on a new Grendel, Christine Spar. And then built on further for a Grendel empire with Orion and beyond. Among the Grendel Omnibus series, it’s kind of funny that much of what’s in Volume 2 and even Volume 3 were published before many of the things in Volume 1. The short stories by a who’s who of comics artists and Behold the Devil were all later additions.
The original Hunter Rose story, though, was reworked in the back pages of Mage. It was collected as Grendel: Devil by the Deed, first by Comico, then Dark Horse, originally in colour. Then later released in a black, white & red hardcover anniversary edition from Matt Wagner, Rich Rankin, and Chris Pitzer.
Devil by the Deed tells the tale of Hunter Rose, the original Grendel, and the rise to power of his criminal empire. It’s told in an epistolary form with Christine Spar essentially reporting the events of her predecessor’s life, mortal enmity with the wolf Argent, and how her mother was tied up in the events. How Matt Wagner tells his stories is interesting, utilizing numerous different forms and approaches, experimenting with styles. This account fits with Christine’s job as a reporter and also gives a more measured, sane baseline to what comes later in something like The Devil Inside.
Matt Wagner’s early artwork is very different. There’s a more exaggerated cartooning about it, all big eyes and minimal details. Some of it is reminiscent of Sam Kieth (which in itself is kind of interesting since Kieth inked some of the early Mage work). Others that evoke manga and anime, somewhat like Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Rich Rankin’s inks maintain thick lines and solid, spotting blacks. There’s almost a stained-glass effect to how the story is lain out, giving it a very interesting feel. Since it’s done as illustrated prose, the overall impact is almost illuminated text.
I quite like the spot colours from Chris Pitzer. The black, white, and red motif for Hunter Rose stories was more or less enshrined with the two anthologies, Black, White & Red and Red, White & Black. I think it nicely separates the era from the others, playing up the noir aspects of the story, and gives it a sort of timeless quality. This stylistic approach to this era is used very nicely later in Grendel vs. The Shadow.
Wagner announced recently that he’s revisiting the story in a brand new Master Edition. He states that he’s expanding the story with all new material. I’m definitely interested in seeing how this shapes up. In the meantime, I definitely recommend checking out the current black, white, and red edition of Grendel: Devil by the Deed from Wagner, Rankin, and Pitzer. It lays the foundation for an entire world. Creating a legacy from a unique viewpoint of a character that is essentially a villain.
Classic Comic Compendium: Grendel – Devil By The Deed
Grendel: Devil by the Deed
Writer & Artist: Matt Wagner
Inker: Rich Rankin
Colourist: Chris Pitzer
Publisher: Dark Horse
Release Date: October 1986 (Comico Edition) | July 1993 (First Dark Horse Edition) | April 2007 (25th Anniversary Edition with these colours)
Available collected in Grendel Omnibus – Volume 1: Hunter Rose
Read past entries in the Classic Comic Compendium!
You can also find this version in the first volume of the Grendel Omnibus.
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