The Shadow, Grendel, and Me

Somehow, I missed (or maybe forgot, because getting old sucks) that Dark Horse and Dynamite Comics are releasing a crossover mini-series featuring the Shadow and Grendel (the original Hunter Rose incarnation).

Written and drawn by Matt Wagner.

Mind. Blown.

I’ve loved both characters for a long time. Both would have a long-lasting influence on me.

When I was in sixth grade, my Music teacher did something rather out of the ordinary. In class, she gathered us in a circle and put on a tape (see cassettes, kids) that was filled some popping and static, and then a peculiar, deep male laugh could be heard. “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”

She had procured some tapes that had this strange thing called “radio plays” on them. This was an entirely alien concept to me in the mid-1980’s. By that time, radio was either music or boring talk. As she played for us an episode of the old Shadow radio series from the 1940’s, my mind was trying to wrap itself around the idea of a drama with no visuals, a play where you didn’t see the people or stage or props.

I thought it was the most fascinating thing ever.

I practically begged my teacher if I could borrow the tapes. She graciously did, one at a time, and I went home each night and listened to these strange stories with rapt attention. And I remember thinking how cool it would be to bring radio plays back. But without a means to distribute them or air them on the radio (who was doing that back then?), I let the idea die. Also: I was only 12.

It wasn’t until many years later that Big Finish would revitalize my interest in audio dramas when they began releasing their Doctor Who audio range.

My first forays into fan-fiction were writing audio dramas for a Doctor Who fan-fiction group. My first ever writing sale was for the audio drama series. the Dome Funny how that worked out.

Regarding Grendel… that’s a little funnier.

As a kid I used to ride my bike a long way to my favorite comic book shop. When I got there, I would love to look at all of the different comics, check out the ones pinned up on the walls there were really old, and see what back issues were available. I was mainly into X-Men or Justice League of America at the time. When I walked into the store, the left half was dedicated to either DC or Marvel.

But on the right side of the store, on one shelf up against the wall, were a bunch of comics that looked completely unfamiliar. Titles such as Cerebus, Elementals, Grimjack, Elfquest, and others. They didn’t look like the regular comics that I purchased. The artwork was… different. Less pedestrian. More dynamic. Some featured anthropomorphic animals, others featured manga artwork that was utterly new to me.

dbtdThen I looked down on the shelf and a graphic novel caught my eye. It was the first Grendel graphic novel, Devil by the Deed. I loved the cover; the painted mysterious costumed character on a building by moonlight looked amazing to my 11-year old eyes. When going back through the longboxes of comics, I came upon the actual Grendel series, by now-defunct Comico. Across the top the comic read “Parental Guidance Suggested”.


A comic with swear words? Like on HBO? I was intrigued.

I looked through the comic. And sure enough, it featured adults using swear words. And there was more action and blood than I had been used to. But above that, I liked Grendel’s (at this point, the Christine Spar incarnation) costume and weapon. I wanted to know what the deal was with the story. And what was this vampire she was warring with?

Sure, the comic cost a bit more, but the binding was of a higher paper quality, so I bought it and took it home. I remembering being all paranoid that my parents would look through my comics (which they rarely did). I raced upstairs and read through the issue. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Then I decided it would be funny to show a fellow classmate and comic book fan. I brought the comic book in to school, and at lunch gave it to him. He read through it during a reading period and cracked up at the language. We thought it was so rebellious (yes, this was the 80’s… the innocence – and dorkiness – was still strong). Any how I took the comic back and went home.

I had forgotten to take the issue of Grendel out of my backpack.

So several days later I was sitting in my living room when my mom came in, smiling.

I knew I was in trouble.

She put the issue of Grendel on the table and asked me what that was.

So I told her, and she opened it up and pointed to all the “bad” things in the issue. I nodded and told her I was sorry. She threw the comic away. I was bummed, probably mostly because I was out $1.25. I then did what any good boy would do.

I waited a few weeks and kept buying Grendel. I just hid it better.

So how was this influential in my life? Grendel paved the way to opening my eyes up to indie comics. Years before the mass exodus of talent from Marvel to form Image comics and titles like Spawn and Youngblood had kids declaring how cool indie comics were, I was buying Grendel, Grimjack and Cerebus, and picking up back issues of Mage and Miracleman. It started me down the path of looking for more mature writing and experiences in my comics and not settle for the ho-hum standard of “safe” comics, crossovers, and meanless status quo “changes”. Sure, I still enjoy the occasional mainstream comic, but ever since that time my main titles have been largely alternative: Cerebus for many years, later The Walking Dead, and these days Saga and Velvet.

So the opportunity to see these two disparate characters unite under one series with one of my favorite writers/artists?


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