My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I count myself as one of Matt Wagner’s super-fans. Makes it tough to give an impartial review, so I won’t. I’ve been collecting his stuff since the 80’s and I’ve found something to enjoy in almost everything he’s done. It’s been a while since he has written and drawn a book, so Grendel vs. Shadow scratched my perpetual “Wagner” itch. His simple and consistent style of writing just really appeals to me. He tends to tell fairly straightforward stories with clear character archetypes. In a modern comics world of Hickmans, Morrisons, and Kots this is sort of a vintage approach to making comics.
Grendel vs. the Shadow remains consistent to Matt’s previous work. It’s the perennial good versus evil throw-down. This tale has Hunter Rose time travelling to prohibition era New York where vicious mobsters and dangerous bootleggers rule the streets. It’s in these back alleys that the Shadow, like a wonderful amalgamation of Batman and the Punisher, fights his unending war on organized crime. Of course, Hunter’s love of the high society spot light causes him to eventually cross paths with the Shadow’s true identity, socialite Lamont Cranston. Also, Grendel’s lust for power and excitement gradually causes him to also run afoul of the Shadow and IT’S ON BITCH!
I’ve always loved the gracefully deadly and maliciously cold blooded Grendel persona. Just seems like Hunter was born to be bad. Combine that with the Shadow’s foreboding mystical powers and twin 1911s and it’s like Rose and Cranston were destined to duke it out at some point. There were several parallels between this book and Matt’s previous two Batman vs. Grendel titles. Time travel, romantic relationships with the lead character’s alter egos, and the gradual culmination towards the inevitable showdown. I have only read a couple of Shadow stories prior to this one (one by Wagner and one by Garth Ennis) and this continued to pique my interest in the character. I really love Cranston’s ruthlessly violent approach to crime fighting.
Wagner’s art deco covers pop and look amazing. Matt also continues to refine his simple style and this might be his best interior work to date. While his art lacks the ultra-realistic and hyper-detail oriented styles that are popular today (and I like them too), it’s beautiful in its modesty and when combined with his fantastic layouts, it’s the shiznit.
This one’s a definite recommend to Wagner, Grendel, or Shadow fans. There is plenty here to like if you fall into one or all of those categories. If you have no history with Grendel or the Shadow, you will probably be best served familiarizing yourself with those characters elsewhere prior to this one. Glad to see you back Mr. Wagner.