GRIMJACKMedium: Comic books
Published by: First Comics
First Appeared: 1983
Creators: John Ostrander (writer) and Timothy Truman (artist)
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In the annals of "hard-boiled" comics protagonists — characters such as John Constantine, Mike Nomad, Ms. Tree it's not easy to find a harder-boiled one than Grimjack. Even Sin City, in some
ways, isn't as tough a town as Grimjack's Cynosure, where vices even more debilitating than the worst reality can offer flourish, genuine demons roam the streets, and children are openly enslaved for public performance as gladiators.
Grimjack was a former soldier, former policeman, former spy, former private investigator, former bounty hunter, "now" (as his series opened) making his living in miscellaneous ways, not all of which even he was willing to talk about in public. He could usually be found at Munden's Bar, a particularly tough establishment in a particularly tough section of Cynosure, where he was among the particularly tough hangers-around — also the owner. His birth name was John Gaunt, but he seldom used it. He got a very young start in his way of life by being caught stealing, and given a choice between a gladiator's life and having his hand cut off. He chose the former, and survived 13 years before managing to seize his freedom.
He was first seen in the back pages of Starslayer #10 (January, 1983), where the star was an interstellar hero created by Mike Grell (Warlord, Jon Sable). He spent only eight issues in that position before moving on to his own comic, which had a first-issue cover date of August, 1984. The publisher was First Comics, a recent start-up that had already distinguished itself with Howard Chaykin's American Flagg and Joe Staton's E-Man.
The character was created by writer John Ostrander (who had a successful run on The Spectre a few years later) and artist Tim Truman (Eclipse's Airboy, DC's Guns of the Dragon). Ostrander had been developing the character since before the publisher was founded, but saw Cynosure (nexus of the First Comics universe, where many extra-dimensional planes of existence intersected so that even the laws of physics varied from one block to the next) as an appropriate setting for his anti-hero.
Like a lot of comic book guys, John Gaunt died and came back a couple of times. Unlike most, there was one death he didn't come back from. In the 55th issue (February, 1989) he was killed off once and for all, but found that because of mystical peculiarities associated with his earlier deaths, his spirit was doomed to be reincarnated over and over until Cynosure itself ceased to exist.
Sure enough, just a couple of hundred years later, he turned up in James Edgar Twilley (probably not related to The New Yorker magazine's Eustace Twilley, but in Cynosure you never know), scion of a wealthy family. The kinfolk were shocked to see him inflict a Grimjack-like scar on his face and go around murdering bad guys, the moment he started remembering his Grimjackness. Jim rejected his family, re-established control over the still-extant Munden's Bar, and went on being Grimjack until the 81st issue (April, 1991), after which the title folded.
The reason it ended wasn't the traditional one of low sales. In fact, a second title had recently been added, Grimjack Casefiles, which reprinted the early stories from Starslayer. What happened was, following an ill-fated venture involving a revival of Classics Illustrated, First Comics went belly-up. Grimjack could probably have moved to a new publisher, but the property was tied up in the old one's bankruptcy. It was years before it could be wrested free.
In 2005, the creators finally regained control. IDW Publishing (The Road to Hell, John Law) launched a series of graphic novels reprinting the earlier stories, as well as a series of new ones by Ostrander and Truman. Now that he's back, it only remains to be seen whether 21st century readers are as supportive of him as were those of the 1980s.