Comic books have always hyped the Hero versus Hero story. The Hulk vs The Thing. Thor vs Iron Man. Wolverine vs The Hulk. These match-ups feed on the competitive musings of adolescent boys. “Who would win in a battle between Thanos and Darkseid? Man-Thing and Swamp Thing? Green Arrow and Hawkeye?” The formula tends to go like this: the two combatants are lured into battle by one or two common foes, the heroes fight, then they realize that they can achieve their goals not by fighting each other but by working together to capture the villian(s).
Grendel vs The Shadow isn’t like that. With these two characters, common ground will never be found. Both are single-minded against each others’ purpose.
I’ve always been fascinated by The Shadow. Not so much the comic book character but the haunting voice of the old-time radio show. The Shadow of radio played on your imagination; the disembodied voice of the man who could cloud men’s minds. And the laugh. Chilling. He didn’t need the visual accouterments of the hat, cape, bandanna mask, and guns. The comic book world has positioned him as an uncompromising destroyer of crime, a more psychotic vigilante than the Batman could ever be. My interest in the character keeps me checking out different four-color artistic versions of him.
I discovered Grendel back in the 1980’s, in the original Comico Comics appearances and as the back-up story in Mage. Matt Wagner’s art and portrayal of the dapper and sophisticated sociopath, Hunter Rose, against the ugly and bestial, pure-hearted Argent, created an evil character so charismatic the reader is tempted to root for him.
This graphic novel (co-published by Dark Horse Comics and Dynamite Entertainment, 2015) was released originally as a three-issue mini-series that did not disappoint. The hurdle Wagner had to overcome was that The Shadow and Grendel come from two different time periods. These two characters grounded in realism, The Shadow does have a mystical history that lends itself to the possibility. The discovery of a Mandarin scroll by Hunter Rose which is a spell that sends him back in time to The Shadow’s New York after he reads it, is not so far-fetched.
From there, it’s Grendel taking control of the prohibition-era mobs with The Shadow hot on his trail. Grendel is intrigued by the challenge The Shadow brings. Aside from having to deal with each other, they have their own issues. Margo Lane is about to leave Lamont Cranston for good, which the cold dispenser of justice must sort out. Hunter Rose is out of his time and becomes captivated by a crime lord’s daughter that temporarily seduces him from the grief he suffers from the woman he forever lost.
This arrogant crime-fighter versus this arrogant villain is entertaining. Wagner’s beautiful sequential story-telling makes reading this hard cover edition a pleasure, not a redundancy if you’ve already read the comic book series.