MINI-SERIES REVIEWS...

cover #1Batman / Grendel

(1993 - two issues, prestige format, DC Comics / Comico Comics)

Written and illustrated by Matt Wagner.

The first of what would be two mini-series having DC's Batman meet Comico's Grendel, done by Grendel creator Matt Wagner. Actually, it's confusingly presented, with each issue of this two-part, prestige format mini-series featuring its own sub-title (#1: Batman/Grendel: Devil's Riddle, #2, Grendel/Batman: Devil's Masque) which might lead you to assume they're separate series.

Anyway, this is a slightly unusual company crossover because Grendel is actually the villain in his own series, so instead of a contrived team up, it is a more conventional Bat-tale as Batman tackles the new baddie in town...ruthless and sociopathic (but debonair) thief Grendel.

It starts out well, with writer/artist Wagner not skimping on the panels, filling the thing up with lots of dialogue and scenes (each issue is 50 pages, with Wagner even using the inside covers). Wagner's art has a stylish simplicity to it, and a nice use of shadows, that evokes Frank Miller (circa the '80s), Alex Toth and even Trevor Von Eeden (particularly the latter's use of small panels and innovative angles and close ups). The story has Grendel planning an audacious heist at a Gotham City museum and Wagner even adds a "human drama" aspect, by having his schemes embroil a couple of civilian characters -- a woman who works at the museum and her room mate -- making it more rich in characters than just the guys in tights going after each other.

Wagner's desire to work in parallel scenes and themes, cutting between Batman and Grendel in sequences that echo each other, can make for a certain repetition. Still, with its emphasis on the characters, and the scheming and machinations (as opposed to stretched out fights) it was entertaining and clever.

The only other thing I'd read by Wagner before this was an arc from Sandman Mystery Theatre, which I hadn't liked both for its gratuitous violence, and its lame plotting. This was making me re-think my opinion of him.

But the story starts to bleed logic and plausibility in the second half. Even the basic premise is problematic, that the museum will be hosting an exhibit of...the head of the Sphinx. A goofily over-the-top comic booky concept if that's the intent...but ridiculous if meant to be taken at all realistically (yeah, the Egyptian government is going to chop up a world treasure and ship it over seas!) Part of the to-ing and fro-ing seems to be the characters trying to find out when the head is being shipped into Gotham...but it's hard to imagine how you could keep something that physically big a secret. And Grendel is blackmailing the museum employee's room mate into helping him, the museum gal finds out and informs the police...and Grendel goes right on blackmailing the roomie and it doesn't seem to interfere with his plans. Huh? Stranger still, the room mate doesn't tell anyone what Grendel has on her (he's kidnapped and threatened to kill a child she had given up for adoption) but it almost seems as though she's more worried about people learning she had a kid than she is about his threats to kill the kid!

This might not be a big problem if it wasn't such a major part of the plot...and if the two women weren't such prominent characters.

(There's also a minor point that a clue is the expression "Bob's your uncle" which Batman immediately attributes to the Canadian-born room mate. I dunno. Ironically, I do use that expression myself, but more as an affectation. I'm not sure it's really that common in Canada).

So there's some nice dialogue, stylish art, and a story that wants to be driven by the plot and the characters, not where those things are just padding between fight scenes. But because of that, you're more aware of how little it really seems to hold together or makes sense as it goes. After beginning to erase my displeasure with Wagner's Sandman, this just seems to re-enforce the idea that Wagner wants to write comics that are more sophisticated than just super dudes brawling...but isn't up to it.

Still...moderately enjoyable, but flawed.

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