Monday, September 22, 2008

Grendel Archives by Matt Wagner

I'm not sure how fair it would be to talk about these comics in terms of how they work as comics and not in terms of why they might be interesting as a historical curiosity. It's the (a) mix of sex, violence, werewolves, exotic weaponry combined with (b) the ultimate male adolescent wish-fulfillment characters - he's the world's greatest fighter and the world's greatest novelist and he lost his virginity to a smokin' hot babe when he was just 14 - that gives the book the early role-playing game feel that both dates it and makes it compelling.

It's dated not just because it's of its time, but because it's a primordial, immature work - immature used here in a descriptive sense and not necessarily a pejorative one.

It's compelling because - as in a lot of the best teenage RPG-play - despite the fact that everything is built on a series of cliches - the specific ways that Wagner enacts these cliches have a distinctive, personal kick.

Wagner has a pretty good sense of page design: there's a great one that features a huge close-up of Grendel giving an "I'm the Top Dog"-style speech to a mob boss, with the boss's changing reaction to the speech - fear, bluster, defeat - conveyed through small panels running counter-clockwise along the edge of the page.

And you can tell Wagner is going for something fairly ambitious story-wise: the Grendel series proper starts in media res at what might be the beginning of Grendel's final battle and then starts into a series of flashbacks.

Of course there's no ending. Wagner would go on to rework this material, so this isn't exactly an unfinished classic or lost masterpiece. I'd probably argue that Wagner was smart to cut things off at this point and do a kind of reboot (even though I'd argue that Dave Sim was smart not to do a reboot of Cerebus when that series reached a point where his then-current ambitions seemed to outgrow his original concept). Of course, this gets us back to talking about these comics mainly in terms of their historical interest...

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