While Matt Wagner’s graphic novel “Grendel: Black, White, & Red” has a few interesting chapters, it is a poor excuse for a novel. The main character of this book is primarily evil, a sort of Walter White character. He is a super-villain who takes over an organized crime organization while personally assassinating all opposition in costume. Meanwhile, he is a world renowned author and has a ward who is essentially a prisoner.
While I find the character difficult to empathize with, the real issue I have with this book is its highly episodic nature and extremely inconsistent quality. Each chapter was illustrated by a different artist. Some of it is beautiful, but other chapters look like they were drawn by children. The writing is similarly variable. It starts out relatively strong, has some solid material fleshing out the premise, but toward the end, becomes extremely lazy.
There is some promising backstory that hints at the main character’s motivation, including a beautifully illustrated love story. Unfortunately, this is not developed or referenced later in the book. Grendel is unbelievably skilled, excelling as a fighter, a manager, a writer, and even as a father figure, yet how he came to be so gifted is never explored. His parents are made out to be unmotivated do nothings, who would hardly nurture such talents.
While having such a repellent main character is hardly a new idea (the entire mob picture genre presages it), it’s rare enough to be somewhat original in a graphic novel. Unfortunately, a promising concept was spoiled by discontinuity of plot, inconsistent quality, and a dull side plot involving Grendel’s ward that goes nowhere. I have to recommend against investing in this book.