Grendel Vs The Shadow

Written and drawn by Matt Wagner
Colors by Brennan Wagner
Published by Dark Horse

A story in which two previously established characters meet can be a difficult thing to pull off. When it’s done right, it’s pretty great (and long running debates over who beats who get settled with little to no alcohol-fueled nerd rage). When it’s not done right, however, it can get pretty bad pretty quick. Characters with their own intense fandoms get devolved into hollow shells of their popular selves, losing their personality to become nothing more than a name and a costume. Changes to in-universe logic doing the story disservice, and cop out explanations thoroughly test the suspension of disbelief. Unfortunately, although some things were done well, Grendel Vs The Shadow did not meet my expectations for the meet up, and was, in the end, just not for me.

The problems I had with the book were numerous. What bothered me the most, though, was that Grendel Vs The Shadow did not feel like Grendel vs. The Shadow, but instead, felt like a Shadow book in which a character who happens to look like Grendel is there. I will admit that I am not nearly as familiar with the Shadow as I am with Grendel, and I do understand that Wagner has been writing The Shadow for some time and has not done a sizeable Grendel story in almost seven years. This does not excuse the fact, though, that throughout the book Hunter Rose does not act within his character, he is not himself – more of a tool of the story than a driving force behind it, with his personality changed to fit the world of The Shadow rather than being applied to it.

Besides the character problems, I felt that the colors were not appropriate to the story. Noir, to me, does not seem to require more than a muted palette, and The Shadow in particular would be well suited to Grendel’s traditional black, white, and red. Some gaps in logic (that I will refrain from describing to keep this review spoiler free), particularly in regards to how the book’s situation came to be, took me out of the story, and ended up making me feel more annoyed than anything.

Despite the issues I had, the book was not all bad. I always enjoy Wagner’s art, and Grendel Vs The Shadow was no exception. His layouts were quality and very much in his particular style, adding much to the cool action noir aesthetic of the book. I also enjoyed the covers, which were well composed, even if they did seem to be mash ups of previous images Wagner drew of Grendel and the Shadow, rather than original drawings. Brennan Wagner’s colors were quite good, and worked well with his father’s drawings, filling out and complimenting them – I just did not feel they were appropriate to the atmosphere or setting of the book. The book is extremely pleasing to the eye, thanks to the father and son team, just lacking in story and characterization.

Ultimately, although I was rather disappointed in Grendel Vs The Shadow, it was not a disaster. Its art is definitely a redeeming factor, as is the implication that Wagner is thinking about Grendel again. If you are a fan of either character (especially The Shadow, as this seems to be much better on his end), then this will likely be a fun (if not very fulfilling) read for you. Hopefully, though, this is a hint at more original work and a transition back to his creator owned characters, from Wagner, soon. Though for now, we can only speculate.