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Credit: Matt Wagner/Brennan Wagner (Dark Horse Comics)

One of my all-time favorite comic creators, Matt Wagner, has returned to the universe that he’s known for best in Grendel: Devil’s Odyssey #1.

History of Grendel

Grendel first appeared in Comico Primer #2 in 1982. The original story was a much smaller affair that followed Hunter Rose, and his arch-nemesis, Argent the wolf.

Wagner took that initial story and created a wide-reaching mythology that spanned generations of time, encompassed multiple series, and was published by Comico and Dark Horse throughout the 80s and 90s.

As an aspiring comic artist who devoured anything on the art and craft of comics, I was reading the works of Scott McCloud or Will Eisner (those are affiliate links to their books) to glean whatever insight I could about sequential art.

But Matt Wagner was putting on a masterclass about sequential art with every issue of Grendel. He wrote the stories and had new artists do every story arc. As the artists changed, his writing style changed to accentuate the style of the artists. It was simply a brilliant collection of comic work that is still wonderful and important today.

Over the past two decades, Wagner has been silent on his Grendel universe… until Grendel: Devil’s Odyssey.

Grendel: Devil’s Odyssey

Devil’s Odyssey is an 8 issue limited series from Dark Horse Comics. Matt Wagner returns to writing, pencils, and inks, while his son Brennan Wagner does the coloring.

The story is set far in the future from his last Grendel comic War Child (1992), but it has the same main character Grendel-Prime.

The tone of this comic is different from most of the other Grendel stories, which are typically grim. Devil’s Odyssey is much more accessible, has some humor, and seems to be more of an adventure tale, rather than a dark psychological study.

This is Grendel in space.

Credit: Matt Wagner/Brennan Wagner (Dark Horse Comics)

Matt Wagner

Wagner’s artwork is as beautiful, authentic, and expressive as ever. And his writing is economical and engaging. I’m going to go one step more and say this work is even — fun! If you’re used to the tone of most the previous Grendel work, this may be a shock, or it might be a relief depending on your expectations.

Wagner discussed the change in tone in his interview with Newsarama,

But the idea for this series came about as a result of returning to the Grendel-verse after some years of other projects and deciding that it was time for a bit of a change… a narrative shake-up. As you mentioned, Grendel has always been a bit of a genre masher with elements from all over the board — crime, super-hero/villain, horror, sci-fi, etc… Within the Grendel-verse, the future has devolved into a long-lasting second Dark Ages, wherein technology and societal norms basically stagnates into an endless cycle of codified rituals and continual warfare. As a result, humanity never really makes that exploratory leap off the planet and fails to evolve past their worst instincts. Finally breaking that barrier seemed like a good idea to really reset the narrative.

And of course, this being Grendel, the impetus for such an odyssey is grounded in disaster and desperation.

Brennan Wagner

You would be forgiven to think that Brennan Wagner got the coloring duties solely because he’s Matt’s son. But the work from Brennan is absolutely top-notch, and is masterful in its own regard.

Brennan artfully captures the mood and spirit of each scene. His work looks painted and beautifully complements Matt’s work.

Credit: Matt Wagner/Brennan Wagner (Dark Horse Comics)

Matt Wagner talked a bit about working with his son, and how Heavy Metal was an influence on this limited series,

We have a good working relationship and at this point, it’s almost an instinctual understanding between the two of us. I tell him the general vibe I’m looking for regarding color theory and he basically takes if from there.

Part of my inspiration for this series was to pay homage to a bit of comics history that was transformative to my own concept what comics could be and what sort of creator I would one day become. As a young comics reader in the 1970s, discovering Heavy Metal in my local magazine racks — as opposed to the more kid-friendly spinner racks — did a lot to stir my imagination beyond the realms of mainstream comics. So, I pointed Brennan in the direction of artists like Moebius, Corben, Caza and Druillet as the basis for how this series should look.
As always…he’s knocking right outta the park. Or, I guess I should say…right outta this world!

There’s even a return of Grendel’s Lair, the regular column that features letters from fans of the series. In this case we get even more insight into the world and some fan service from people (like me) who are excited to see the return of Grendel-Prime and the world Wagner has created.

I think whether you’re a fan of Wagner’s original work, you want to see how a joyous comic-creator delivers an exciting tale, or you’d just like to see work that stands out on the racks as original, inspirational, and expertly-crafted, then you should give Grendel: Devil’s Odyssey a read.

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