Grendel: The Devil Inside

Written by Matt Wagner
Art by Bernie Mireault
88 pages, color
Published by Dark Horse Comics

It makes me really happy to see Dark Horse reprinting and collecting the original 40-issue Grendel series published by Comico back in the late ’80s. It’s here that I first discovered Matt Wagner’s tales of loss and revenge, and really understood what a powerful writer he was. What I wasn’t expecting was the nature of Grendel: The Devil Inside… but then again, I think that was true of almost everyone reading the book. In many ways, this volume of Grendel defines the term “curveball”.

Brian Li Sung has hit rock bottom. His lover, Christine Spar, just died a violent death as part of cycle of retribution. What no one else knows is that Brian has Christine’s diaries—her writings as the masked killer Grendel. Torn apart with feelings of loss and betrayal, will Christine’s journals inspire Brian to become the next Grendel? Or is something more sinister afoot?

Wagner took a big chance when he wrote the three-issue The Devil Inside storyline. The first twelve issues of Grendel (collected as Grendel: Devil’s Legacy) had a very specific look and feel to them, and The Devil Inside was almost a complete about-face. Where Christine Spar was bold and confident in her actions, Brian Li Sung is cringing and conflicted, a wreck of a man. At the same time, though, it’s Brian who is able to do what Christine Spar (and Hunter Rose before her) never did: understand the true nature of who or what Grendel is. It’s an idea that could have failed miserably—a spirit of vengeance being hosted by each Grendel—but works well thanks to Wagner’s script. You’re never 100% sure if Brian’s revelation is true or merely a symptom of his mind snapping, even as Grendel gives its own narrative on each page, revealing its own goals and plans. By the time you reach the end of The Devil Inside, you’re bound to be questioning the events of the book almost as much as Brian did.

Bernie Mireault’s art is a dramatic change from the Pander Brothers’s work on the previous storyline. Mireault grounds The Devil Inside, drawing the fragmented life that is Brian Li Sung. It’s a really distinctive look for the book, with Brian’s clumsily-stitched mask and awkward attempts at grace. Where Christine Spar was a true heir to the title of Grendel, Mireault makes sure you understand that Brian Li Sung is an imitator trying to take the throne. He never ever feels at home in his own skin, and the final game of cat and mouse as drawn by Mireault hammers that fact home. It’s painful to watch Brian go after Detective Wiggins, because you can see Brian’s insecurities working against him in his desperation, trying to succeed where such an event can never truly happen.

The Devil Inside isn’t a huge epic like some of Wagner’s other Grendel stories, but this little journey is in many ways one the most important pieces of the puzzle that is Grendel. Different in tone than what came before and after, it’s enthralling and disturbing at the same time. Brian Li Sung may never be remembered by readers as a noteworthy holder to the title of Grendel, but he’s really one of the most important. Able to understand and resist the Grendel spirit like no one else, The Devil Inside is a worth epitaph.

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