The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Twenty-Two.

§ October 23rd, 2023 § Filed under final countdown § 11 Comments

Movin’ along the Favorite ’80s Comic Poll list to our first four-vote-getting entry:

Grendel (Comico 1983-1984)

This is another case the listing the first ongoing series featuring the character in the header there is a little misleading as to the size and impact of the property. After first appearing in the second issue of the Comico anthology book Primer in 1982, Matt Wagner’s character launched in what was supposed to be a six-issue series the next year. It was crude and amateurish but had an undenialable energy beneath its striking covers that put it a step above most of the other black and white boom comics of the era.

The series ended prematurely after three issues. In 1984, Comico started publishing Wagner’s next big project Mage: The Hero Discovered, a full-color urban fantasy adventure. Starting in issue #6 of that series in 1985, and running through #14, Wagner included a serialized Grendel back-up story. This story retold the tale that was intended for that aborted mini, in a more experimental caption-heavy format.

The premise of the Grendel comics, at least at the beginning, can most simply be summed up as “the villain is the hero,” where Grendel, AKA rich socialite Hunter Rose, is a handsome, witty and appealing, while living a secret life as a murderious crime lord. The hero of the story is Argent, a misshappen and grotesque wolf-like being, flipping on its head the usual superhero/supervillain dynamic one would see in comics. It’s not an unusual inversion…I mean, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a Godfather or a Breaking Bad where we’re invested in the bad guys. Even in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, all the good bits involve Satan and all the Heaven stuff is boring.

Now, at the end of that initial story, Hunter Rose is killed, and the next Grendel series launches in 1986. The first 12 issues of that, written by Wagner, illustrated by the Pander Brothers, takes place in the near-future of…sometime around 2010 or so in which the “grandaughter of Grendel” (Christine Spar, the daughter of Hunter Rose’s adopted child) takes on the costumed identity. From there, the idea of “villain as hero” evolves into Grendel being more an examination of violence and aggression as the mantle passes from person to person and the “spirit of Grendel” supposedly influences people and events.

That Grendel series ends with issue #40 in 1990, with the title of Grendel being held by the conqueror of Earth in the 26th century, so clearly the premise had gone through some permuations. Past this, Grendel comics move to Dark Horse Comics with a number of mini-series by various creative teams, either continuing in this future world, or filling in backstory (like a mini featuring the tragic adulthood of Hunter’s adopted daughter Stacy), or a handful of series telling more tales of the original Grendel. Of note are two mini-series pairing up the character with Batman (one with Hunter, the other with Grendel-Prime, a future Grendel who arrives via time-travel). There’s also Gredel Vs. The Shadow in 2014, so long as we’re talking about crossovers.

The most recent series, Grendel: Devil’s Odyssey, ran from 2019 to 2021, written and illustrated by Wagner. To be frank, I gave up briefly on some of the earlier Dark Horse minis set in the far future, as I just didn’t have the interest. I did pick up the later Hunter Rose minis, and that Devil’s Odyssey I have to read eventually, but it started during the height of my eyeball issues so it’s ended up in the “read these later when I can see again” stacks and I haven’t gone back to them yet. It looks good, though!

Now, if you want to read any of this stuff…a lot of it is still available in paperback, primarily through four omnibuses, starting with the Hunter Rose era and working its way through to the future Grendel Prime era. The “Devil by the Deed” story that ran as the back-ups in Mage has been reprinted on its own several times, including an 8 1/2 by 11 inch graphic novel from Comico, and a couple of comic-book sized reprints from Dark Horse. The non-Wagner Grendel material has been reprinted in two Grendel Tales omnibuses, but only the second one appears to be available currently.

The original black and white Grendel stories from Comico, the Primer short and the three released issues of the mini, were collected in Grendel Archives from Dark Horse, but that hardcover appears to be unavailable. Most of the Grendel run has been reprinted in one form or another over the years…I had a paperback at my shop recently that Comico had released in 1988 of the Christine Spar Grendel story, and the story that had followed in the 1986 run, illustrated by Bernie Mireault, had been collected on its own as well. There’s lots of out-of-print books out there, you just have to keep your peepers peeled for them.

Shipping in November of this year is Devil by the Deed Master’s Edition, a brand new retelling of the Hunter Rose story, written and drawn by Wagner. So, there’s more yet to come!

One oddity I hadn’t mentioned was a slim 16 page Grendel comic, Devil’s Vagary, which was included in the Comico Collection slipcase. The slipcase, which is actually a pretty nice item featuring a Grendel design, was a “sampler package” (i.e. Comico trying to clear out the warehouse) of a handful of random back issues, which featured this exclusive Grendel story (written by Wagner, drawn by Dean Motter). I’m sure this story must have been reprinted somewhere, probably in the first Omnibus, but there’s no indication on the comics database page I linked. Maybe someone can let me know.

If you’re new to Grendel and want to try it out, I honestly think you can’t go wrong with any of the Hunter Rose stuff. It’s Basic Grendel, the purest distillation of the concept, and the source from which everything else follows. The 1986 series that begins with Christine Spar and moves on from there is good as well, though as the series progresses further into the future, and the mini-series by Other Hands kick in, the franchise gets a little lost in the weeds, I think. Your Mileage May Vary, as they say.

And I should probably bring up the fact that a live-action Grendel series was pretty much all ready to go on Netflix, until Netflix decided this was the one series they weren’t going to throw at a wall to see if it stuck. Ah well. Hopefully it’ll get out there somewhere.

11 Responses to “The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Twenty-Two.”

  • Bat Masterson says:

    My name is Mark, and I am a Grendel Obsessive. My *introduction* to the series was picking up the $50 signed, numbered hardcover Christine Spar collection. (Back in those days, that was my comics budget and there was nothing else I wanted to read that week.) I was in damn high school. Who needed “starting at the beginning”?

    Grendel is pure comics experimentation. So many protagonists, looks, panel counts, storytelling tricks, collaborations, and deaths. A lot of gutters, a lot of blood. And yet growth and renewal and discovery through the chaos.

    Just so lovable. VIVAT GRENDEL!

  • Craig says:

    Through some miracle, in the smallest of small Canadian Prairie towns, a drugstore/weird knick knack store had a spinner rack of up to date comics, and had at least three months’ worth of issues piling up at the base the rack was standing on. I was probably (definitely) too young to be buying them with my allowance, but I bought the first three issues of the Christine Spar Grendel series. I don’t know how this shop had them (did early issues have newsstand distribution?), but that’s how I began, and pretty much kept with it until burning out on the ‘mileage may vary’ Tales. Some great art in those latter day series, though.

  • Kyle says:

    That was the same way I started reading Grendel! Got it from a variety store in a small Ontario, Canada town. I too was probably too young to have been reading it but I thought it was great.

  • Brian says:

    Devil’s Vagary is reprinted in the first omnibus in the section with the stories from the first Black, White & Red series.

    I came into comics just after the later Comico run ended, but I was able to get almost the full run out of quarter & discount bins over the next couple of years. Getting individual issues out of order was a lot of fun, speculating just how the heck it was going to connect all these weird spots on the timeline.

  • Tom W says:

    Finally, the Grendel I voted for… and while it’s continuing when so many indie titles struggled to get out of the 80s, those were still its best days. The experimental, changing-with-the-artist, era-advancing run beginning with Spar and ending with Assante were the comics I loved.

    But while I can understand Wagner wanting to open it up not just to new artists but new writers, and while an impressive list of talent worked on Grendel Tales, it got lost and stayed lost in the far future. The world was okay but unremarkable as sci-fi dystopias go, and Grendel Prime was a dud. He’s had multiple series and still, even in Devil’s Odyssey, has no character. The upcoming series will be the first Grendel I don’t buy because there’s nothing that can be done with him; he’s an unstoppable cyborg who always resorts to violence though it rarely works. That’s it, sum and total.

    Hunter Rose I have doubts about as well. I felt the curtailment of the original series and the compression of it all into Devil By The Deed was the accidental saving of the character: the story’s implausible in so many aspects but by presenting it as already legend all that slid by. The Black, White and Red series fleshed it out beautifully, showing every aspect of Rose in an eight-page carousel of styles, perspectives and artists, the second mini explaining those key plot moments. But Behold The Devil floundered because once you start to treat Rose at length he starts to fall apart and I feel the new, expanded DbtD will have the same flaw. The Netflix series would have suffered from it, too.

    Still, how many other of these 80s indie are still in print? With their original creator still in charge? That’s an achievement and maybe responsible for the high placing of Grendel. You could still discover it in 2009, which you can’t say about American Flagg.

  • Rob S. says:

    Oh, man, did I love Grendel. First encountered the Hunter Rose stories in Mage, and then followed on through Christine Spar all the way through Orion Assante. But somehow Grendel Prime lost me… I suppose for the same reasons he lost Tom, above. It just seemed so much emptier than the challenging stories that had come before.

    I also regularly kick myself for not making my way out to the Comico offices and trying to be an intern while I was in high school. I lived fairly close by — though maybe not as close as it now seems. A highway connecting my hometown and Comico’s Norristown PA headquarters was built just as I graduated college, but by then, Comico’s heyday was past, and the company had been sold. Ah, well.

  • LouReedRichards says:

    Another series I keep meaning to revisit. I only picked up the stuff that came out around ’93, The Devil by the Deed, Warchild and the Batman crossover. The Devil by the deed was an interesting concept, the Batman stuff was not bad, but I don’t remember anything particular about it. Warchild was, as others have pointed out, less interesting. Beefed up Grendel with a lightsaber seemed kinda dull compared to the other concepts.

    The Spar issues seem the most intriguing, esp. with Pander Bros. and Mireault artwork.

    I’ve always loved the design for the original Grendel, minimal and very striking. It’s a lot of fun to draw!

    @Tom W – agreed, not many 80’s character still around with the original creators, but my vote, Nexus, still is!

  • Sean Mageean says:

    One of my biggest regrets regarding comics is parting with the 3 black and white Grendel issues that Comico first published, featuring Hunter Rose vs Argent.

    I always liked Bernie Mireault’s art–especially on his own comic character The Jam.

    The Pander Bros. art I found to be an acquired taste…and I never read any of the other Grendel iterations beyond Hunter Rose and Christine Spar.

    Interesting that Dean Motter teamed up with Matt Wagner…I wonder if a Mister X/Grendel one-shot story or mini-series was ever considered?

    Here are a few links of interest regarding Grendel:

  • Snark Shark says:

    “I mean, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a Godfather or a Breaking Bad where we’re invested in the bad guys”

    Not to mention Horror movies, though i will, wherein the monster/creature/villain is often far more interesting than the heroes. IE. Dracula, Frankensteins Monster, the Wolfman, Freddy Krueger, Leatherface, etc.

    There are exceptions like Jason from “Friday the 13th” that are basically a personality-free cypher, too.

    “with the title of Grendel being held by the conqueror of Earth in the 26th century”

    I liked that era the best, probably, though the part leading up to it was interesting, though i haven’t read as many of those.

    “There’s lots of out-of-print books out there, you just have to keep your peepers peeled for them.”

    I believe I had one that was just several literal back issues bound together! But that may have been some other indie title.

    “My name is Mark”

    No, clearly your name is Bat Masterson!

    “(did early issues have newsstand distribution?”

    I believe Comico did have a little bit of newsstand distribution.

    “The Pander Bros. art ”

    always looked just plain ODD to me.

  • LouReedRichards says:

    Sean, I wondered the same thing about a Mr. X/Grendel crossover – I could see how a spirit of vengeance loose in Radiant City could be interesting. No doubt, it would have at least looked good.

  • Sean Mageean says:

    @Snark Shark

    I always thought the Pander Bros. were trying to bring a Patrick Nagel aesthetic to comic books …with mixed results…


    Maybe a Mr. X/Grendel crossover could still happen…but would it be any good…who knows? Radiant City seems like a place where Grendel would thrive and become the kingpin…

    I think a one-shot jam session 80 Page Giant comic of various ’80s independent comics cult characters drawn by their respective creators could be fun …maybe just keep it surreal and nonlinear…like Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, Gilbert Shelton et al used to do in Zap Comix.