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Grendel is a comic book series created by Matt Wagner. The titular character first appeared in the anthology title "Comico Primer" #2 (1982). He held his own short-lived black and white series (1983-1984), and also appeared as back-up strip in "Mage" (1984-1986). Before launched in an original full-color series, lasting from 1986 to 1990. Various mini-series featuring Grendel regurarly appeared through the 1990s. Reprints and some new material have continued appearing in the 21st century.

The subject matter? Hunter Rose is a bestselling author, a sophisticated gentleman who attends high class parties. He's also Grendel, a ruthlessly efficient assassin who slowly takes over all the mobs in New York City. Matt Wagner's stories of Grendel are noir tales, black and white and red only. They are not only tales of a criminal mastermind, but a study in aggression.

Warning: there are spoilers in the rest of this article

Two other important characters in the Grendel series is Stacy Palumbo, a young girl whom Hunter adopts after he kills her father, and Argent the Wolf, a cursed werewolf who works with the police to stop Grendel. At the end of the first Grendel story, Devil by the Deed, Stacy, who has found out Hunter is Grendel, manipulates both Grendel and Argent to fight on a rooftop, where Grendel dies.

This is only one of the few series where the story can continue after the main character's death. There are stories set in the near future, with Stacy Palumbo's daughter, Christine Spar, who wrote a book about Grendel, and even stories in the far, far future, where Grendel has become something of a religion.

Has nothing to do with Beowulf.

Examples of Grendel include:

  • Action Mom: Christine Spar.
  • After the End: The War Child continuity clearly takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. Most of the Middle Eastern OPEC states are now an abandoned wasteland, and Europe is shown to consist largely of bombed-out ruins.
  • Anti-Hero: Christine Spar, who adopts the Grendel persona to avenge her son's death. Argent could also count.
  • Anti-Villain: Hunter Rose was an early attempt at this in comics. While clearly a Villain Protagonist, he's also explicitly shown to have a strict moral code, and deeply cares for both his lover and for his adoptive daughter. His rival, Argent, is shown as a savage killer whom even the police fear.
    • The third Grendel, Brian Li Sung, is a more straightforward example. Shattered by his lover's death, his desire to understand what happened to her, combined with his desperate poverty and his returning alcoholism, makes him feel possessed by Grendel and driven to commit horrible acts. He's arguably a subversion, as he succeeds in resisting the most violent instincts, leading to Redemption Equals Death.
    • Orion and Jupiter Assante, and Grendel Prime are arguably the Trope Codifiers in comics. All three characters commit horrible acts, but the former two appear to do so for The Greater Good, while Prime himself is very much an Even Evil Has Standards character.
  • Anything That Moves: Crystal Kennedy.
    • Her grandfather's pretty close, too.
  • Arch Enemy: Argent is Grendel's archenemy
  • Ascended Extra: Brian Li Sung, Captain Wiggins, Susan Veraghen
  • The Atoner: Susan Veraghen, in Grendel: Past Prime. It was her clan that was on guard duty the night Jupiter Assante was assassinated; as a result, everyone except her commits ritual suicide, and she herself goes on a worldwide pilgrimage to locate the missing Grendel-Prime.
    • Brian Li Sung is an unusual case in that he's The Atoner for actions he hasn't committed yet, and desperately tries to avoid.
  • Ax Crazy: Eppy Thatcher, when he really gets going
  • Badass Creed: The Oath of Obedience in the Assante continuity.
  • Badass Normal: Grendel has no powers, nothing except fighting skills and an electrified fork-sword-thing, but he regularly battles Argent the Wolf, who has superhuman strength and claws.
  • Big Badass Wolf: Argent the Wolf
  • Blade on a Stick: Hunter Rose's 'fork', a weapon also favored by Christine Spar and Eppy Thatcher
  • Break the Cutie: What happens to Stacy, beginning with Hunter's death and ending with her husband/therapist raping her and killing himself.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Orion Assante, with twins, even.
  • Butch Lesbian: Susan Veraghen.
    • Bury Your Gays: Susan's lovers did not often have long lifespans, and if that wasn't bad enough...
    • Hide Your Lesbians: Crystal Kennedy essentially has Susan exiled to the Dakota compound so she can take up with a new (male) love interest.
  • The Chessmaster: How Grendel was able to take over the entirety of New York's mobs within a month
    • How Orion Assante takes over the world. He's less effective against vampires, however.
    • How Abner Heath and Laurel Kennedy plot to take over the Khanate as Jupiter's regents. It doesn't turn out so well.
  • Complete Monster: Tujiro is the obvious choice, but Grendel himself, in all his incarnations, also has a valid claim to the title.
  • Creepy Child: Stacy Palumbo, especially given that she's the cause of Hunter Rose's death.
  • Cyberpunk: What the Grendel stories eventually become.
  • Cyborg: A few characters have cybernetic implants, such as Captain Wiggins' artificial eye. Cybernetics Eat Your Soul comes into play more than once. Taken Up to Eleven with Grendel-Prime, who is a full-body conversion powered by sunlight.
  • Death Seeker: It's probably easier to list characters that don't have at least overtones of this.
  • Demonic Possession: Occasionally discussed as part of taking on the Grendel identity.
  • Distant Finale: By the end of this far future we see Grendal has in his very basic essence and concept, taken over the world.
  • Early Installment Weirdness / Characterization Marches On: The black-and-white stories that introduced the character portray him as something between Don Corleone and an amoral Spider-Man. Matt Wagner once mentioned that Hunter Rose gets a little more evil every time he writes about him.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Hunter Rose is against the idea of harming children and as such stopped child prostitution as part of his role as mob boss. He also withdraws from Gotham when the life of a child he was holding for ransom became actually endangered.
    • Also holds true with the Forx gang of Grendels, who burn crude oil instead of using it, and definitely true of the post-Assante Grendels, who take sharp issue with nuclear weapons.
  • Flanderization: In Devil by the Deed, Matt Wagner takes great pains to balance out Hunter Rose's criminal activities with his compassion towards Stacy; later works revisiting this particular character turns him into an unrepentant killer and implies that Hunter believes Stacy is the reincarnation of his dead lover Jocasta. Wagner has admitted he is less fond of Hunter Rose today.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Hunter Rose will die on the roof of the Broadway Masonic Temple following a battle with Argent. The very first page of the very first issue, back in 1983, starts with both characters there.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The Confederacy Of Police in the Eppy Thatcher/Orion Assante arc.
  • Gentleman Thief: Grendel seems like this until he stabs you in the eyes.
  • Hero Antagonist: Argent the Wolf, an Anti-Hero example who's determined to take down Hunter Rose.
    • Captain Wiggins is another example.
  • Intercontinuity Crossover: Batman/Grendel
    • Especially notable in that not only are both crossovers canon for Grendel, the sequel comic serves as a major plot point in Grendel Prime's life.
  • Karma Houdini: Tujiro. Until he gets what he deserves centuries later.
  • Knight Templar: All of the Orion's Sword Grendels who hold true to the code qualify to some extent, but Grendel-Prime lives and breathes this.
  • Laser Blade: Grendel-Prime's weapon of choice.
  • Legacy Character: Hunter Rose to Christine Spar to Brian Li Sung, then a centuries-long gap until Eppy Thatcher. Orion Assante inherits the title from Eppy, and while his son Jupiter eventually becomes Grendel-Khan, the true heir of the Grendel identity at that point becomes Grendel Prime.
    • Hunter Rose sees himself and Stacy as this.
  • Living Lie Detector: Captain Wiggins' cybernetic eye lets him read biopatterns.
  • Lost Superweapon: The sun-disc from the War Child series. The missing component to make the thing work is Grendel-Prime himself.
    • Also Hunter Rose's skull.
      • Averted in that the skull doesn't do anything - it's just part of Grendel Prime's attempt to understand the legacy of Grendel.
  • Madness Montage: Eppy Thatcher gets these every so often.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Hunter Rose, Tujiro, Orion Assante
  • Moral Event Horizon: what Grendel does to Lucas Ottoman in Behold The Devil, what Tujiro does to Christine Spar's son in Devil's Legacy
    • What Grendel does to Stacy's beloved uncle and to Argent in Devil by the Deed. Both actions mark Stacy, and when she finds out Hunter's responsible, it leads to his death.
    • Hunter Rose, in Behold The Devil, manages to see his entire legacy in the future through supernatural means. He then tears the pages describing this out of his journal, causing much heartbreak later on, simply because he can't fathom anyone else being Grendel.
  • Morality Pet: Stacy Palumbo to Hunter Rose and Argent, which ends up becoming the downfall of Rose and the spiral towards insanity for Stacy.
  • Mundane Fantastic: Grendel is a completely normal man who takes over the New York mob. His archenemy is a werewolf.
    • Orion Assante's essentially a well-meaning but slightly perverted bureaucrat. He also takes over the world in a dictatorship, despite being unquestionably the least militant lead Grendel in the series.
  • No Name Given: While all Grendels aspire to this in service to the Khan, Grendel-Prime has utterly abandoned his former life.
  • Old Shame: The Comico black-and-white miniseries, as well as the character's introduction in Comico Primer #2.
  • Our Vampires Are Different
  • Our Werewolves Are Different
  • Plot-Relevant Age-Up: Jupiter Assante in Grendel: War Child.
    • Also his father in Devil's Reign.
  • Psycho Serum: The Grendel drug that is the source of Eppy Thatcher's abilities and madness.
    • Vampires eventually succumb to this in the blood of The First.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Devil Child, featuring Stacy and bridging between Devil By the Deed and Devil's Legacy. Spoilers for real life trauma: Stacy was raped by a man she trusted. The second issue's letter column reveals that the writer based Stacy's reaction to this event on personal experience.
  • Religion of Evil: In the far future, the Catholic Church
    • Much less-spoileriffic: the various Grendel cults, as well as the vampire cult.
  • Retired Badass: Argent, in Devil's Legacy.
  • Samurai: Orion Assante's Grendel army in later series has major overtones of this, right down to the ritual suicides and the standard-issue katanas.
    • Grendel Tales back covers feature a motif of the symbols of individual Grendel clans. One of them is clearly based on Japanese mon.
  • Screwed by the Network: The title saw a delay of several years due to the bankruptcy of its original publisher (Comico). During the interim, Comico's owners tried to claim Grendel as a company asset and prevent Wagner from taking the character elsewhere. This also held up Dark Horse reprints of the Comico issues, which eventually went through without further complications.
  • Shared Universe: The "Grendel Tales" spinoffs, taking place after the Grendel ideal's ascent to world domination, and involving characters who aren't actual avatars of Grendel.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: a huge chunk of Behold the Devil was about Lucas Ottoman interviewing people about Grendel and eventually coming to realize that he was Hunter Rose. Of course, the readers know nobody knew who Grendel was until after his death, but it's still shocking when Grendel nonchalantly slits his throat and sets him on fire. More than that, Lucas's girlfriend, Detective Liz Sparks loses an eye, six fingers, and is burned over forty percent of her body. Wagner really doesn't want you to like Grendel.
  • Skunk Stripe: Hunter Rose and Christine Spar
  • Straight Gay: Argent was cast out of his tribe and cursed to his current form for being this. Jupiter Assante also qualifies.
  • Super Soldier: The Paladin/Grendel-Prime
  • Tropes Are Not Bad: The entire point of War Child, which plays with dozens of post-apocalypse tropes at once.
  • Twenty Minutes Into the Future: Grendel: Devil's Legacy about Christine Spar, Stacy Palumbo's daughter
    • Given that cybernetics and similar leaps in technology are available, the 80s fashion is still overwhelming. Despite coming later, The Devil Inside fits this trope better, as only Wiggins' cybernetic eye gets much showcase.
  • Villain Protagonist
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Hunter Rose is an uppercrust bestselling author, as is Christine Spar. Tujiro is a respected Kabuki performer and centuries later, Pope.
    • To say nothing of the Khans themselves.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Lots, including Captain Wiggins, Brian Li Sung, Laurel Kennedy and Abner Heath.
    • Implied to be the source of Grendel "possession", though this may just be Orion Assante's madness talking.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Susan Veraghen, whose natural hair color is bright green. In Past Prime, she states that all the Veraghens had been genetically modified for green hair and pale skin several generations previous, and comments that "one of my great-great-grandmothers must have liked the look."
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