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Saturday, 25 January 2014

2013 overview: Grendel - War Child


Apologies for the lack of updates - I'm hoping I've still got some readers left...  As usual I have a ton of things I'd like to review and, as usual, the task is a little bit daunting.  So, to make it easier on my myself (and to get some posts on here for you dear lovelies to read) I'm going to do a few posts on the best stuff I read in 2013.

I'm going to start with books from a couple of smaller publishers: Grendel: War Child, from Dark Horse comics; and Top 10 from America's Best Comics.

Grendel: War Child

Writer: Matt Wagner
Art: Patrick McEown and Ken Henderson
Colours: Bernie Mireault and Kathryn Delaney
Inks: Matt Wagner and Monty Sheldon
Letterer: Kurt Hathaway
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

What's it about?
I did have a full length review of this written in rough, it inspired me so much, but then I lost the bits of paper and now I have to re-write it from memory.  There's a lesson to you all - organise your paperwork!

War Child is a 10 issue mini series and part of the wider Grendel story.  I haven't read any other Grendel books, although I am a big fan of Matt Wagner (the writer), so this review comes from my understanding of this single story.

Grendel is the senior bodyguard/protector of the leader of the empire, Orion I.  After Orion's death his son, aged about 10, is kidnapped by Grendel.  Orion's widow is now ruling as regent; however she is a little unhinged.  She is desperate for power and wants the son back to give her leadership legitimacy.  She has locked her daughter in her quarters, ostensibly for her protection from the threatened rebellion - but honestly?  I think her daughter just isn't a high priority.

Grendel has taken the son on Orion's orders and they are travelling through the wastelands to safety.  Orion's widow sends the army after them, and predictably they all fail.  Eventually Grendel and the child find sympathisers and can rest, and wait.

What's good about it?
Why is this so absorbing?  It's got a unique voice and style.  The art is a big draw. It's a unique mix of violence and comedy.  McEown and Henderson draw caricatures and exaggerated emotion as easily as they draw violent killings and, don't misunderstand me, this is a violent comic.

A large part of the comic is conducted in silence - Grendel doesn't speak unless it's necessary and Orion's son just doesn't speak at all.  Both artists give us the story through the artwork.  We may not know the names of all the characters, we may not know the places or the intended destination or all the motivations of Grendel and the kid, but we know what's happening and we understand what they are feeling.

When other characters do speak there is never a wasted moment.  Each line of dialogue serves to give us an insight into the scene or character.  Orion's widow, Laurel, is pretty verbose - but everything she says is relevant.  When we read her rants (there's a lot of those) we know her better and better.  When we read Crystal's (her daughter's) scenes we feel and hear her anger and frustration.

This all comes together in the glorious final issue where everything is unravelled and Orion's and Grendel's plan comes to fruition.

There's a mix of ethnicities within the comic, which is pretty rare for stories set in apocolyptian futures, and there's some high profile LGB characters too.  It's nice to know we're allowed to survive in the future.

Other information
This comic was collected as a trade but is now out of print.  However copies pop up on ebay and Amazon from time to time, and your local comic book shop might have back issues.  At the time of writing there are copies of the trade going on Amazon from £9.99 and copies of the original 10 issues going for £18.99.
If you get the original 10 issues there is a lot of extra information on the making of the comic and the history of the Grendels at the back of each issue.
The ISBN of the trade is 1878574892.

If you like this do try and find the other Grendel series, information on wikipedia here (warning: contains spoilers).  Also try Madame Xanadu and The Sandman: Mystery Theatre by Wagner, and Trinity, his take on Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman.  He has done another series called Mage, which is very popular, but I did not take to it, as I explained in this review I wrote of it for The F Word.

Come back in a few days for the Top 10 review.

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