Grendel in action on a cover.

GRENDEL

Medium: Comic books
Originally published by: Comico
First Appeared: 1982
Creator: Matt Wagner
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There have been very few comic books that made stars out of the villains, but The Joker, The Phantom Blot and Doctor Doom have all had series of their own. But those all started by fighting heroes (Batman, Mickey Mouse and The Fantastic Four, respectively). Even fewer started out in their own series without having been introduced as bad guys fighting heroes, but The Yellow Claw and Eclipso did manage to debut without previously-established heroes. But even those had regular heroes in the series to keep the villain in check (Jimmy Woo and his own …

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… untransformed self, respectively). In Grendel, as the series was first conceived, the bad guy's nemesis was Argent, a wolf-like supernatural creature.

Grendel and Argent made their first appearance in Primer #2, the anthology title where the first characters of a a start-up company named Comico (which went on to do The Elementals, Sam & Max and others) were introduced, in 1982. Of all the characters who appeared in Primer's half-dozen issues, only The Maxx, Avengeline and Grendel had a noticeable future, and only Grendel had a real future at Comico. And even Grendel had what is probably a greater impact after Comico's bankruptcy, when he was taken over by Dark Horse Comics (Hellboy, The Mask).

Their creator was cartoonist Matt Wagner, in his first outing as a comics writer and artist. Wagner went on to do Mage for Comico, Sandman Mystery Theatre for DC's Vertigo line (Swamp Thing, Hellblazer) and more.

Grendel started out as a twisted young genius called Eddie, no last name given. Following the death of the only person he cared about, Jocasta "Jackie" Rose, he renamed himself Hunter Rose, partly in her honor, and made a fortune writing best-selling novels by day. At night, he made another fortune as the costumed criminal genius Grendel. This went on through his short-lived black and white title (1983-84) and the early years of his full-color title, which began with a cover date of October, 1986, until Argent finally killed him.

But that wasn't the end of Grendel. Years later, Hunter's adopted grand-daughter, Christine Powell, who was fascinated and yet repelled by the legacy of Grendel, wound up assuming his identity herself. She did it in an attempt to bring to justice the man who had kidnaped her son, Anson — who, by the way, turned out to be a vampire.

But she wasn't exactly a good guy. Consumed by her desire to avenge her probably-dead son, she committed acts every bit as evil as those of Hunter Rose, and was eventually killed — without achieving her goals. The Grendel persona was next assumed by her boyfriend, Brian Li Sung, who didn't even start out with her heroic motives. He got killed too.

By this time, hints were being dropped that Hunter Rose hadn't been the first Grendel. Grendel was more of an immortal spirit of aggression. To date, however, the existence of earlier Grendels hasn't been documented — unless you count the original, the aggressor in the ancient Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf.

Eventually, the series evolved into a far-future scenario, in which Grendel wasn't always a single individual, but could also be a societal movement or a tribe. Even the vampire who abducted Anson, still undead and still up to his vampiric ways, was involved — as was the Catholic Papacy, long-since relocated from Rome to Denver.

Creators other than Wagner became involved, but always under Wagner's supervision. These included (but were not limited to) Bernie Mireault (The Jam), Edvin Biukovic (The Human Target), Tim Sale (Challengers of the Unknown), and John K. Snyder III (Green Lantern). A novel about Grendel was written by Greg Rucka (Superman, Wonder Woman).

Meanwhile, Wagner never quite let go of his first Grendel. New stories about that one, set in the past, continue to appear. He even met Batman. To many fans, too, Grendel will never be anyone but Hunter Rose.

— DDM

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Text ©2008-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Matt Wagner