Matt Wagner is about to merge two of the defining eras of his comics career.
In advance of New York Comic Con, Dark Horse Comics and Dynamite Entertainment have jointly announced that the award-winning writer/artist is crafting a brand-new three-issue series titled “The Shadow Vs. Grendel.” The 48-page prestige format installments will bring the legendary hero of the pulp era currently under the eye of Dynamite into contact with one of Wagner’s most famous creator-owned characters as the classic pulp hero clashes with cunning mob assassin Hunter Rose.
The Grendel story defined Wagner’s voice in the earliest days of his career, eventually expanding into a world of stories told in collaboration with other artists and writers. But as he brings the character into the realm of one of his favorite classic heroes — and one he’s worked on during his current stint reviving icons with Dynamite — Wagner is once again handling the story solo.
CBR News has the exclusive first interview with Wagner about the 2014 project, as the creator explains why this is the right time to return to Hunter Rose’s world, hints at what the villain and Lamont Cranston have in common. He also discusses the similarities this project has with his “Grendel/Batman” stories and gives a first look at what it will take to put Rose into the 1940s environment he’s always dreamed of.
CBR News: Matt, with “The Shadow Versus Grendel” you’re combining the personal creator-owned side of your career with your continuing love and expansion of classic pulp heroes. But my first question has to be, how in the heck do you get these two together? Hunter Rose was a modern character, while the Shadow comes from the Golden Age of the pulps. What gets them in the same place?
Matt Wagner: Grendel as Hunter Rose is almost a character out of time. He seems like a character who kind of missed the Golden Age of America in the ’30s and ’40s — the times he would have loved to have lived in. Especially the American urban scene and the American art scene of that time and the Hollywood high style and fashion realities. In my “Grendel” narrative, Hunter’s life takes place in the early to mid ’80s, so I have to find a way to put these two characters together.
Even though I liked Howard Chaykin’s modernized version of the Shadow, I kind of have a rule that most of these pop culture icons only work in the time and place that they were created. Regardless of the current adaptation of Sherlock Holmes on BBC, generally Sherlock only works in Victorian London. I think the same is true of the Shadow. He works in the ’30s. For one thing, that’s the era where every man on the street wore a hat. Additionally, he worked in a time where cities still had shadows. They kind of don’t anymore. I don’t know when the last time you were in New York, but I feel like it’s lit up like a pinball machine at all times of the day.
So to do this, I have to get Grendel back in time, somehow — and I do have a way to do it. Luckily, in the Grendel world there is an element of the supernatural. We don’t make a huge point of it, but of course, his main nemesis Argent is a werewolf character, and on vampires factor into the narrative quite highly as we go on. So I do have that “out,” but Hunter will have to go back in time to meet the Shadow.”
Tell me about the origin of this series. It’s been quite a while since you’ve done a Hunter Rose story — why return to him now, and in this form?
The last time I worked on Hunter as a character was the “Behold The Devil” series for the 25th Anniversary, and I’ve been kind of flexing my pulp muscles over at Dynamite for a while now. I did some 30 issues of “Zorro,” the 20 issues of “Green Hornet: Year One” and “Shadow: Year One,” most recently. This new project come out of an e-mail from Dynamite Editor-in-Chief Joe Rybandt. He’s been a big fan of my work for a long time — in fact, when we first met, he showed me his Grendel tattoo. So his e-mail says, “I went to bed last night thinking about this, and I couldn’t fall to sleep. What if we did a Grendel/Shadow crossover?”
I did the two Batman/Grendel crossovers years ago, and I’ve been offered the chance to do many, many other crossovers since then. I always turned them down because, after Batman, where do you go? But this idea I bit on immediatly because I’m a huge Shadow nut. As big a Batman fan as I am, I think I’m an even bigger Shadow fan. Just about the time that I was getting into comics as a real fan, more so than just a reader — the time I became aware of the world of fandom that surrounds comics — around when I was 12 or 13, DC had ads running in their books announcing their first Shadow series drawn by Mike Kaluta in the early ’70s. That was very intriguing to me. My parents were from the World War II era, so they grew up listening to “The Shadow” on the radio, and by the ’70s you could get old episodes of the radio drama on vinyl. Then, about a year after the comic debuted, Pyramid Books started releasing the old Shadow pulp novels with beautiful new covers by Jim Steranko. I got a whole big mega-dose of the Shadow all at once and just fell in love with the character.
So when Joe brought this up to me, I thought, “Yeah, this is a natural. If there’s one character I could set Grendel up with besides Batman, it’s the Shadow.” And when I wrote him back. I said, “I think I’ve got to draw this one as well as write it.”
Some of the Hunter Rose comics — particularly every one Dark Horse recently reprinted in the “Grendel Omnibus” editions — were presented in red, white and black. While the Batman crossovers didn’t do that, I think the Shadow is one of the few crossover characters you could pull that off with. How are you approaching the visuals on the book?
It won’t be black, white and red. It’ll be full color, though I do have some ideas on how to unite those two realities. My son is actually going to be coloring this. He’s been coloring the “Shadow: Year One” book. He’s colored the interiors on that by Wildredo Torres, and he’s also colored my covers for that series, but this will be the first long-form narrative of my own stuff he’s colored. That’ll be a fun collaboration, though I told him to watch it. [Laughs] The old man is going to have the whip out!
He’s literally in the family business on this! But on the story front, the connection between the characters seems to be that they’re both men with a lot of unexpected qualities. Hunter Rose is a villain, but he is the protagonist of his own story, and the Shadow is a hero, but he’s also a cold-blooded killer. What’s been the most interesting part of watching them clash against one another?
Much like the Batman/Grendel crossovers, where I was easily able to contrast the two because they’re so similar in their secret identities as well as their costumed ones, I can have a very similar approach here. I mean, Batman was based on the Shadow in a lot of ways. But I can’t just recreate what I did in the Batman crossovers. I need to bring something new and fresh to the interaction of these characters.
What will really be fresh about the Grendel side of this story is that Grendel as Hunter Rose was very much formed by this tragic love affair he had as much as it is the shining brilliance he has in everything he tries to do. But that affair ended tragically, and if he goes back in time to the ’40s, it’ll be before that all happened. That will have an impact on his psyche and how he approaches things. In many ways, it’s the same world but a new world. It’s a brand new Manhattan for him to conquer.