In Grendel: Behold the Devil #7, Matt Wagner lays his cards on the table, and it's a royal flush. Heads up, all: there be SPOILERS ahead in this review, so don't say I didn't warn you. SPOILERS.
The Obligatory Warning: harsh language, graphic sexual content.
There's always been promise in the Matt Wagner-penned Grendel stories (there are plenty of Grendel spin-offs written by other authors, too). Since Grendel's real identity is Hunter Rose, a professional novelist, one would naturally expect his first-person monologue to be sharp. Too often, however, Wagner focuses on gore and sadism rather than language and atmosphere. Behold the Devil #7 gladly breaks the trend. Wagner has finally delivered on the latent potential buried beneath the body count.
In issue 7, Hunter Rose finally captures the devil who has been following him for months. The demon in question stabs him and incites a harrowing vision of the future Grendel imitators that Rose's journals will inspire. The writing is at its most stunning as the vision begins: "Fiendish venom rattles through me. Like ions skittering along an edge of hot steel. And then... Huxley's 'doors of perception' unpeel their cavernous maw." That's beautiful writing, worthy of a character who's supposed to be a professional man of letters.
If the aesthetics are good, the theme is even richer. Hunter Rose is naturally frightened by his diabolic vision, but what really unnerves him is the notion that he is simply one more evil brick in the wall. "So now he sees!" cackles the demon. "He is not special...nor the last of his kind!" The thought that he the inspiration for other, lesser Grendels drives Rose to denial. The usually unshakeable Grendel elects to believe he dreamed the ordeal, insisting that he "is unique." The underlying theme is as true as it is well rendered: evil, no matter how good it looks, is, by nature, repetitive and unoriginal.
The art, too, is flooring. Grendel's look into the future is rendered in six 2-page splashes chronicling the various Grendels-to-be. Wagner's three color palette of red, white and black is used to devastating, lyric effect, and Grendel fans will enjoy seeing Wagner's versions the characters he inspired. The devil who assaults Grendel is an effectively eerie mix of ape, crab and scorpion, Mignola-esque in his visual creepiness.
Letterer Tom Orzechowski, whose graphological contortions bring the trapped devil's speech to deliciously disturbing life, is in top form here.
Worth the money? Absolutely. All fans of sequential art should indulge themselves.