It's funny how these entries have built on one another. Monday we took a look at Golgo 13, who is about as basic badass as you can get--everything he does is awesome if not superhuman and he has absolutely no character . . .and that's all purely intentional. Yesterday it was Diabolik's turn, and he's got much the same sort of storytelling engine as Golgo 13.
Today we look at a character who's explicitly referencing Diabolik: Grendel.
The first one, specifically. Hunter Rose.
Like Diabolik and Golgo 13, Hunter is an assassin, and a great one. Like Diabolik, he's also superhumanly brilliant, physically gifted, and cunning, although in Hunter's case it has more to do with that old standby of pseudo-science "increased brain capacity" and all that. But it's certainly an evolution of the concept, as we'll hopefully see.
On the surface, Hunter screams "Mary Sue" from every mountaintop. Mind, he also screams "This was a character the author made when he was nineteen." Let's see--gifted but shunned by society, rises to brilliance, unbeatable yet not superhuman, can get away with a mullet as an adult, banged an older woman . . .yeah, you wouldn't think this would work necessarily.
But at the beginning, it's style as substance--the story gains its power and the reader's interest through how it's presented. Ignoring the first four black and white issues and looking at Devil By The Deed, it handles an essentially problematic character by inserting a distancing mechanism in the storytelling--Matt Wagner doesn't have to worry about Hunter being interesting or relatable, because he's built a self-contained storyline, told as a recounting of his infamous life. In addition to making the storytelling engine function smoothly, it also lays the track for the longevity of the concept: "anyone can be Grendel."
But that's a topic for later. Hunter is the odd man out when it comes to the Grendel lineage, as he's so rooted to conventions of the past (whatever else you may say about it, when Grendel returned as a new series, it never long returned to the somewhat more conventional tone of the early Hunter stuff) which don't really carry forward with the later Grendels. Meanwhile, here Hunter is, straddling the middle ground between noirish crime story and Batman villain (indeed, in Batman/Grendel he rather explicitly walks a line between master manipulator and costumed menace. And not badly either, I should say.) Hunter stays on the shelf for the most part as Grendel develops as a title and a concept. Where's the need for him to be there--the conception has changed into something quite different.
When Wagner returns to Hunter later on, his conception of the character's changed. The last of the superhero-esque trappings and all are gone. They're more noirish crime stories, by and large, and they have a far more brutal edge than before. Our distancing mechanism is still in place, of course, but the purpose for it has changed, mostly because the author's attitude towards Hunter has changed.
Hunter is less the extraordinary golden boy, motivated by extraordinary gifts and boredom to a life of crime into something inhuman, evil, and merciless--a bit Hannibal Lector-ish, actually. Held up to his previous portrayal, it's as if Wagner had much more misgivings about what he was doing 25 years later--so often what we think is cool when we're 19 is a bit puerile and adolescent later on. So Hunter is a horrible person that we are expected to have no sympathy with at all--Wagner's actually said as much in interviews.
Unfortunately, this new approach doesn't make for terribly compelling reading. For two reasons.
One, we know how the story ends, if we've read Devil by the Deed. This means nothing substantial is going to happen without being negated by the end of the story or revealed as filigree for the larger plot, and therefore meaningless--if we'd needed to know it, we would have heard about it by now.
Being that these new stories are obvious filigree, they're also pretty repetitive--Grendel ruins someone's life, or kills someone, or Stacy fumes and gets a little bit crazier, setting up the important stuff we've read elsewhere.
There's a lesson here in going to the well once too often I'd imagine. It's probably the nature of the beast--Grendel works best as an ever-evolving concept that continually moves forward at a fever pitch--revisiting any chapter of it carries the risk of bogging the momentum down, which fundamentally damages the storytelling engine.
Next Time: I . . .have no idea. I'll think of something.