Matt Wagner’s return to the world of the Hunter Rose/Grendel continues with part three of his latest epic. In part three of Behold the Devil, we finally get to see a battle between Hunter Rose and his nemesis Argent. And it’s quite a battle, pitting the brilliant and amazing Grendel against his monstrous counterpart. The battle moves from rooftop to dock, through normal panel arrangements and the sorts of illustrative panel arrangements that Wagner is famous for. It’s a bloody battle, horrific in its brutality and the death it brings. The battle between Argent and Hunter Rose leaves readers awestruck, as it does journalist Lucas Ottoman, who witnesses the whole thing. Ottoman is struck literally in shock over the events. The battle shakes Ottoman down to his foundations, leaving him to wallow in a state of near catatonia in his bed. Ottoman’s girlfriend, policewoman Liz Sparks, brings Ottoman back to the real world, but the battle has truly changed him, and changed the relationship between the couple. As happens so often in Wagner’s Grendel stories, a character is fascinated by the violence around him, and this fascination could easily turn into a self-destructive obsession.
But Ottoman shows signs of being a little stronger-willed than some of the other characters in the Grendel graphic novels. By the end of this issue, Ottoman seems to have stumbled over a very important clue that might dramatically change the balance of power in this book.
Wagner does a great job, as usual, of putting the characters’ reactions front and center, right next to Grendel’s machinations. It gives the book a feeling of “as above, so below” – while Grendel lives in his (almost literally) ivory tower, the characters around him are forced to react to their interpretations of Grendel. Wagner seems to be implying that Grendel is such a primal force, so complex and unknowable, that there’s no way for an ordinary person to fully grasp his schemes and machinations.
It’s interesting that this issue occurs at a time when Hunter Rose is feeling imperiled. Something is stalking him. It’s not Argent who’s doing so; instead, some unknown being is quietly and calmly stalking Grendel. That stalking gives Hunter a kind of weakness that makes the book more intriguing. Over the years, readers have so often seen Hunter Rose as the stalker – heck, it’s in his name. But having Grendel be the one stalked makes the man seem like he’s not quite as invulnerable as he sometimes appears to be.
As usual, Wagner’s art, drawn in black, white and red, is beautiful. His lines are expressive, and he does a brilliant job of showing action. The two-page spread on pages four and five shows a fairly standard action scene, but the way Wagner draws the scene really adds to the story. Since the scene is told from the perspective of Ottoman, Grendel and Argent are shown at a distance, cascading over rooftops in one fragment of the page. In the middle of the page is an intense close-up, flooded in red, of Ottoman’s face as he watches the action, while on the left page Ottoman watches the fight and literally struggles to stand up. It’s just one scene out of the whole comic, but this two-page spread shows Wagner’s brilliance.
As I mentioned, this issue ends with a terrific cliffhanger that could invert the relationship between Grendel and Ottoman. I’m really curious to see where this leads. Will Hunter Rose finally face some weakness, or will he once again come out triumphant over all his foes? I can’t wait to see what happens.