Two classic characters, one a brilliant criminal mastermind and the other a vigilante on an unstoppable quest for justice, collide in Matt Wagner’s Grendel vs. The Shadow #1. Is it good?
Grendel vs. The Shadow #1 (Dark Horse Comics)
Matt Wagner and his colorist son Brennan Wagner weave an excellent introduction connecting the two main protagonists in just the first two pages of the issue; although it may take new readers (such as myself) a second read through to realize this. After creating the connection between the two characters, Matt Wagner focuses on introducing them, letting the reader know who Grendel and The Shadow actually are.
He begins with Grendel. The first thing the reader notices — Grendel is a man with style and power. He wears a luxurious tuxedo, white gloves, and carries a cane. He is surrounded by a fantastic collection of the rarest historical artifacts not to mention shelves of books, but Grendel’s display of power is pushed over the top by his nonchalant attitude when giving an order to terminate two treasure hunters via car bomb. He is also incredibly well-learned; if the books and artifacts hadn’t given it away, his easy translation of ancient Mandarin does. The cursive lettering Michael Heisler uses, although somewhat difficult to read, also highlights Grendel’s sophistication and is a nice story-telling touch giving the reader a sense of Grendel’s inner thoughts via his personal diary. Matt Wagner effectively communicates who Grendel is and why he is a foe to be feared.
Switching from Grendel to The Shadow, Matt Wagner uses a different story-telling method than the diary entries. Wagner uses the inner thoughts of Margo Lane and dialogue between her and Lamont Cranston to flesh out The Shadow’s character. Miss Lane’s thoughts in five short sentences elaborate Cranston’s extreme passion for justice and how his intense passion rubs off on those closest to him. Cranston is also a strategist in his own right; he is able to see an impending collapse among the Five Families and is fearful for the future. It is this fear he uses against his enemies as he dons the hat and cloak of The Shadow. Letterer Michael Heisler enhances the fear The Shadow employs in his entrance and makes it sound/look even more terrifying with black word bubbles and white lettering, creating an ominous tone for The Shadow’s speech.
Matt Wagner introduces two storied characters and makes them feel fresh and new to new-time readers. He does not end with character creation. He adds a wonderful tale full of political theater between the Five Families and Grendel. There are familial spats when a young Sophia attempts to make her mark on the Family’s business. Grendel’s brutality is shown up front and center when he begins making his first moves into the criminal underworld. Margo Lane begins having doubts on whether Lamont truly cares for her and if she really needs him. Matt Wagner weaves many small intricate stories into an overarching battle between two legends that will challenge both The Shadow and Grendel.
Matt Wagner’s storytelling doesn’t end with his script; he also provides the artwork. For the most part it is wonderful. He has perfected Grendel and Hunter Rose from their tuxedos to the way Grendel wields his spear, at one point opening a gaping hole in a man’s neck. He also does a superb job with the time period architecture, clothing and automobiles. The reader feels they have travelled back in time with Grendel! He does seem to falter when drawing females – they look more like men especially in the face. This is very apparent when he puts Cranston’s and Margo’s profiles side by side. The only way you know Margo is a woman is Brennan Wagner’s addition of red lipstick and white earrings. Brennan Wagner does a great job coloring from the red blood dripping off a hammer to the grays, blues and greens of the mobster’s suits.
Is It Good?
Matt Wagner weaves a masterful story introducing two comic book character legends to new and old readers alike as they pit themselves against each other in 1930s New York. The artwork and coloring is good although Matt struggles with females. This battle is being set up to don the title of epic.