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

§ January 5th, 2024 § Filed under final countdown § 19 Comments

Very near the end here…this is the third-from-last entry in this series covering your favorite 1980s indies from this poll of mine. This is the one that almost got my vote, and it remains a much-beloved series. So here we go:

Grimjack (First Comics 1984-1991)

Grimjack, the soldier/detective/bounty-hunter/bodyguard/etc. for hire who operates in the multi-dimensional city of Cynosure, first appeared as a back-up story by creators John Ostrander and Tim Truman in Starslayer #10 in 1983. After a run of stories there (capping off with an issue-length crossover with the titular Starslayer his own self), Grimjack moved over to his own first issue in 1984, running 81 issues (and a graphic novel) through ’til 1991.

And it’s quite a ride. Grimjack (AKA John Gaunt) has been around a bit, seen a lot, fought in the Demon Wars, tough and grizzled but loyal to, and protective of, his friends. His base of operations is Munden’s Bar in Cynosure, and the bar itself is the setting for a well-regarded run of back-up stories in the series by a multitude of artists and the occasional guest stars (the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles appear in one story!).

Truman illustrated the early part of the run, followed primarily by the moody artwork of Tom Mandrake (and it’s Mandrake’s rendition that I primarily associate with the character, as it’s such a major chunk of the series). Following him is Flint Henry, who takes over after a particular change in direction which I’ll discuss in a moment.

Grimjack himself goes through some serious changes through the run [SPOILERS AHEAD], not least of which is just straight up gettin’ killed, going to the afterlife, and then returning to the land of the living via his soul inhabiting a younger clone of himself. Along the way Grimjack also encounters a man claiming to be a future version of himself, who has traveled back in time in an attempt to undo a curse he is — they are — under, that causes them to be reincarnated over and over again.

Anyway, everyone figures that’s crazy talk…until about 2/3rd into the series run there’s a time jump, and lo and behold, Grimjack is in the future, reincarnated as “James Twilley,” who picks up where he left off in the man-for-hire business with a (mostly) new cast of friends and enemies.

I wrote about a lot of this in 2009, including this excerpt from the last issue’s editorial page with its plans for future stories:


Anyway, none of that happened, and those dangling plotlines remain dangling. I was kind of looking forward to eventually reading the story of the Future Grimjack that appeared in the original Grimjack’s timeline, maybe seeing things from his perspective, but alas.

After the end of the original Grimack series, the returned in two new mini-series published by IDW in 2005 and 2009. However, these were set in the John Gaunt era and did not continue from where they left off. I should note they were still plenty enjoyable, reuniting Ostrander and Truman for a couple of quality adventures.

As I lamented back in 2009, we’re almost certainly not going to see the storyline advance past the Twilley era into any future incarnations. 30+ years on, trying to get any new readers on board and invested in that specific premise seems a lot harder than just doing back-to-basics Classic Jack stories that don’t require more explanation than “this is a tough guy people hire to do stuff.” I mean, maybe it can be done, but the image of Grimjack that survives is that Truman version. It just feels like it helps to be familiar with what came before, prior to starting to do wild variations on it. The former informs the latter, but if you don’t know the former, the latter lacks its impact.

I don’t know. If Ostrander were to announce “we’re picking up where we left off, just jump in and hang on” I’d be there in a heartbeat. If this supposed Grimjack movie or TV show or whatever it’s going to be now ever materializes, maaaaaybe there’d be enough interest to jumpstart the book and we can get goin’ again, but I’m not holding my breath.

If you want to catch up yourselves, you’re in luck as the series has been reprinted. There are five volumes of the Grimjack Omnibus, which reprint the First Comics run in its entirety, including the Demon Night graphic novel. These were from Comicmix, and they appear to be out of print, but should be easy enough to find, I’d think.

In the realm of incomplete reprintings, First Comics itself published a five-issue reprint run called Grimjack Casefiles, which reprint most of the Starslayer back-ups and the first three issues. And IDW had Legend of Grimjack, eight volumes that reprinted up to #54. A ninth volume was planned but cancelled.

You could also just track down the individual issues, which shouldn’t be that hard to come by, and aren’t that expensive. Even the issue with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is cheap. It’s a great series, filled with colorful characters and out-there storylines, and well worth the read.

19 Responses to “The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Twenty-Five.”

  • ScienceGiant says:

    30+ years on, trying to get any new readers on board and invested in that specific premise seems a lot harder than just doing back-to-basics Classic Jack stories that don’t require more explanation than “this is a tough guy people hire to do stuff.”
    Have faith, Mikester. I never thought we’d see Gaiman’s Miracleman, and Sisyphus is supposed to roll the final issue into your shop on the 17th.

  • ChrisB says:

    I remember first reading about Grimjack in an interview with Ostrander in Comic Interview, the way he talked about it and Truman’s design of the character made it sound awesome. When I finally got to read a couple of issues it fell a bit flat to me, even in the 80s I found the character a bit of a cliche tough guy and Truman’s art has always felt really static to me. I’ve dipped in again a couple of times and it’s never really grabbed my interest, I’m kind of surprised it has rated so high here.

  • Chris V says:

    I thought that Grimjack was winning this poll while reading through the reader’s comments for the original posting. It seemed like so many people were voting for Grimjack.
    It was my second choice, after Puma Blues.
    It was a lot of fun hunting down the back-issues of this series before the Omnibus editions existed. Discovering that the Casefiles reprinted the early back-up strips. Having to order the Demon Night graphic novel off of Amazon. It’s Dirty Harry in a dystopian Cyberpunk world with elements of Moorcock’s Eternal Champions.

  • Joe Gualtieri says:

    It’s so freaking good. I actually got all of the single issues via local pickup on eBay in the early aughts for like $60. I was impressed by Suicide Squad, I started getting everything by Ostrander. This and Wasteland turned into absolute favorites.

  • Chris V says:

    It was the same with me. I took a chance on Suicide Squad and started buying all of John Ostrander’s comic work. I think I had already become a huge Ostrander fan from reading The Spectre before I gave his Squad a try.

    Oh yes, Wasteland. Another personal favourite. I found almost every issue of that series in a 25cent box about 23 years ago now (I think only one issue was missing that I had to hunt down and pay like $3.) That was a real steal.

  • Snark Shark says:

    GRIMJACK’S THE BEST! GRIMJACK’S THE BEST! GRIMJACK’S THE BEST!

    I have the entire run, including the STARSLAYERs. This is also true for one of my other favorites, Ambush Bug. it is NOT yet true for Jonah Hex, nor Amazing Spider-Man.

    “Grimjack Omnibus”

    Were these in color or B&W? I never saw these!

    “Grimjack Casefiles”

    Have em! Or at least the first couple. Good to have the early shorts together.

    “Legend of Grimjack”

    Have most of them!

    “eight volumes”

    Oh, maybe about half of em!

    Get “the individual issues”

    Considering the back-up[ stories, the covers, & the letters page, u really should.

  • Snark Shark says:

    ” It’s Dirty Harry in a dystopian Cyberpunk world with elements of Moorcock’s Eternal Champions.”

    With Film Noir and Vampires thrown in, YES.

    ” Suicide Squad”

    This is recommended! Also Ostrander (with TOm Mandrake)’s run on The Spectre.

    “Wasteland”

    This i could not get into. just weird for the sake of weird.

  • CalvinPitt says:

    I voted for GrimJack, although I didn’t start reading it until the early 2000s (a cousin who was 15 years older than me gave the longbox of comics he had, and that included the first 4 years of GrimJack.)

    One of the things I like is how each of the major artists make Cynosure its own place, and how Ostrander’s stories seem tailored towards their strengths. The stories with Truman are closer to noir/detective vibes, and the city has a grimy feel. Mandrake’s of course all swirling living shadows and so we get a lot of stuff with demons. Henry’s version is brighter and multicolored, more futuristic.

    I won’t bet on ever getting any of those stories Ostrander mentioned, but I’d like to be surprised.

  • Mike Loughlin says:

    I have the first Omnibus & The Manx Cat. I liked both, and Grimjack is always on my to-read list. I wish comixology was still working, I could see the omnibuses going on sale , but Amazon’s destruction of the app made that unfeasible. Grimjack seems like a good anchor series for humble Bundle, and I’d love to see it pop up there.

  • Sean Mageean says:

    People shouldn’t sleep on Ostrander’s Sargon, Mistress of War short stories in the back of WARP comics, either…those are either his first published work or at least very early Ostrander–and WARP is underrated in general.

    I always thought Tim Truman’s art was interesting…it reminds me of a synthesis of the art styles of Sam Glanzman and Wayne Howard (who was one of Wally Wood’s
    assistants), with a bit of underground artist “Spain” Rodriguez and old pro Joe Kubert thrown in the mix. I wonder if Glanzman taught at the Kubert School?

    Re:Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champions, I recently pickled up a bunch of Hawkmoon comics…the scripts are sometimes disjointed but the Rafael Kayanan art is superlative–I wonder whatever happened to him?

    And while we are on the subject of ’80s comics, I also recently picked up several Eclipse Comics titles: Axel Pressbutton reprint stories comics–which are great fun both story and art-wise, and ESPERS by James D. Hudnall and David Lloyd –a good little mini-series.

  • Snark Shark says:

    WARP didn’t do much for me, though i liked the art.

    “Sam Glanzman”

    I THINK Truman has mentioned him as an influence.

  • Sean Mageean says:

    @Snark Shark

    Yeah, WARP had great art by Frank Brunner –and Steve Ditko drew some of the Sargon, Mistress of War back up stories. Also, all the fistum designs for the original stage production of the WARP theatrical play (which begat the comic series) were by Neal Adams.

    So, I’m guessing the top two vote getters for best ’80s Indy comics were TMNT, and Love & Rockets.

  • Sean Mageean says:

    *costume

  • Aaron Morrow says:

    “The former informs the latter, but if you don’t know the former, the latter lacks its impact.”

    While I’d like to think that the quality of the concept would stand, which extra knowledge providing more impact rather than making it feel inferior to others, trying to pitch THREE* versions of the character at once seems like a hard pitch to make.

    * The twins constitute one version

  • Jack says:

    Grimjack ending the way it did-with an obviously rushed ending, given that Ostrander had been setting up a lot of subplots as recently as two or three issues before First fell over and died-annoyed me greatly at the time. Honestly I have no real interest in seeing what Ostrander was talking about in the last issue happening; there was still mileage in the Twilley version of Grimjack (which, heretic warning, I actually liked better than John Gaunt) for one thing. And for the other, Ostrander had a tendency as the book went on to try to escalate the story by calling it “the most dangerous this book has ever been!” and Twilley going to hell and being replaced by twins felt like catering to that instinct.

    That said, lord, I loved Grimjack. Especially Flint Henry’s run on art. I’m not sure what he did after Grimjack died, but seeing Angel Medina go on to do a Todd McFarlane impersonation on so many Image books after Dreadstar fell into the First black hole, I always wondered why Image didn’t snap Henry up.

  • Snark Shark says:

    ” Flint Henry”

    He did a book for Marvel/Epic called “Lawdog”, w/ I think, Chuck Dixon. It was very Grimjack-esq.

    “Twilley version of Grimjack”

    I did want to see what he was going to do next, but I also want more Twilley!

    OH also, Tom Sutton had a brief run on Grimjack, before Mandrake took over, unless I’m remembering completely wrong. I though he shoulds be mentioned!

    “I always wondered why Image didn’t snap Henry up.”

    Frankly, he’s too good for them! As much as I like Erik Larsen, and can resspect Jim Lee’s abilities, I think guys like Truman & Henry are on another level.
    Also, he might just not want to do superheroes! Although He DID do one Green Lantern Quarterly story, wherein a Grimjack-like character get a GL ring.

  • Sean Mageean says:

    @ Snark Shark
    Re: Tom Sutton –now he was a great artist who is totally underrated.

    I’ve been reading some old Eerie magazines from the early ’70s lately and the Tom Sutton stories and art are always great! I also like some of the Marvel Premier stories he illustrated…Seeker 3000, and Pallidan.

  • Sean Mageean says:

    *Paladin

  • Snark Shark says:

    “Tom Sutton –now he was a great artist who is totally underrated.”

    100%!

    I have a big stack of Creepy/Eerie mags i haven’t read yet, i expect he’s in some of those. I believe he was in some Marvel’s 70’s B&W mags as well.

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