This was a pretty neat opportunity given to Grendel creator Matt Wagner. He was able to take his independent comic book character Grendel and pit him against none other than Batman. As Wagner says in the sketchbook afterword in this collected version, it took a few years to get the rights together but it was worth it. The first part of the story came out in 1993 and had a bored Hunter Rose (the original Grendel, who I wrote a review of here) go out to Gotham City to amuse himself by fighting Batman and causing some mayhem along the way.
The two part story, Devil’s Riddle, has panels that are a bit too busy for my tastes. Artist/writer Wagner is a bit over ambitious in showing casing his talents on a large scale and has the tale told from four different characters, each with their own custom text box/fonts. The two most prominent viewpoints are of course, from the two titular characters. Wagner uses this effect to show the similarities between the two. We have Hunter Rose, famous novelist, who is also a chic assassin and head of a crime syndicate and Bruce Wayne, heir of the Wayne fortune and also Batman. They are men of privilege who don alternate personas for deeply personal reasons.
Most of the story is set up like a typical Grendel caper, with Batman trying to figure out what the devil is going on. Grendel is manipulating a couple friends against each other to help him pull of a supposed heist at the art museum which is show casing the Sphinx. Batman believes Grendel is wanting to steal the Sphinx but Grendel has a plan all his own.
The artwork is bit too busy at times, there are panels on top of panels and it seems undisciplined at times. However, it’s nice to see Hunter Rose again in a comic book. We get to see a more fun side to Hunter than normally, which also gives a nice contrast to Bruce Wayne’s stoic, almost boring personality. Hunter lives it up at the posh New York Hotel he is staying at and Wagner takes the time to show his iconic character having fun poolside and at the bar. It’s a nice little character moment that shows just how relaxed, and possibly insane, Rose is that he can go out and kill twelve cops and takes the time the next day to go high-diving. His irreverent take on Batman’s rogue gallery is also amusing.
The next part of the story takes place four years later, after the death of Hunter Rose (R.I.P). Some liberal douche opens up a museum exhibit in Gotham showcasing the villains of Gotham in an effort to “bring light to their crimes”. Among the exhibit is Hunter Rose’s skeleton. Grendel Prime, a futuristic cyborg made by a Grendel cult, is sent back in time to retrieve the skull of Hunter and preform a blood ritual which would kill most of Gotham in order to try to communicate with Hunter’s soul.
Batman doesn’t take too kindly to all this and they end up fighting.
This story is a lot more fast-paced than the previous one. Hunter fought a psychological battle against Bats more so than a physical one. In this one, Prime beats the shit out of Batman like Bane did and blows people away in brutal fashions that would make Skynet’s creations proud.
The artwork is more loud and bombastic than the subdued version of the previous entry. The panels are vibrant and colorful and over all it feels more like Wagner is more in control of the story. It moved at such a break-neck pace that I was able to read it all in one sitting. If you are planning to read this collection, I’d strongly recommend you first read the Grendel Omnibus Vol. 1: Hunter Rose, otherwise there are quite a few moments that won’t really make a lot of sense.