Friday, June 1, 2007

Swimming Against The Manstream #2

3. Christine Spar ("Grendel: Devil's Legacy", Dark Horse): You've heard this story a hundred times before. Tragedy strikes a family, leaving a sole survivor who dons a mask and stalks the streets, seeking vengeance. Batman. Punisher. Daredevil. The Crow. Here's the thing, though: women don't usually get in on that action. Oh, there's no lack of vengeful women in comics, but that urge for payback is usually expressed in subtler (or more over-the-top) forms. It's very, very rare for a woman to pick up a sword or a gun and actively avenge herself; how fortunate, then, that Matt Wagner has provided us with Christine Spar, heir to the mantle of Grendel in "Devil's Legacy".

A bit of backstory is needed for this one: Christine was the granddaughter of Hunter Rose, a highly intelligent socialite who, out of boredom, became the criminal mastermind Grendel (oftimes referred to as "the Devil"). When his adopted daughter, Stacy Palumbo, learned who he really was, she went mad and orchestrated his demise. Christine was born to the unstable Stacy and spent her life trying to extricate herself from her bloodstained legacy... until her son was kidnapped. Frustrated by the failure of law enforcement, Christine did the unthinkable and stole Rose's mask and signature pitchfork, becoming Grendel herself and wreaking mayhem on her enemies' lives.

Christine is a rare example of a legacy character who sidesteps the archetype of the weaker, distaff ripoff. Her identity is, on the one hand, inherited from Hunter Rose, but she quickly establishes herself as the antihero Hunter Rose never could have been. What's more, every Grendel that follows her in the line of succession inherits Christine's rage at the corrupt society around her and is motivated to change it, rather than indulge in the sort of playful scheming that made Rose a master criminal. It's ultimately her legacy, not Rose's, that shapes the destiny of the world.

4. Anne Merkel (Why I Hate Saturn, Vertigo): Anne doesn't break any paradigms. She's not the first credible female lead in a sci-fi magazine, she's not the first woman to lead a superteam, and she's not the first legacy character to overpower the shadow of her template. Anne Merkel is just a snarky, witty, down-to-earth lady who reacts to atypical situations in typical ways. I know women like Anne; I see myself in Anne. And even as Kyle Baker draws her into an adventure that can best be described as "wacky", she retains that sense of normality, of being an average real-life woman. There's nothing special or unique about her at all, and that's the whole appeal of her character.


4 comments:








Kazekage

said...

You know, I'd never considered that it's Christine's legacy that endured rather than Hunter's. In fact, had Wagner approached it that way, it would have made the Grendl-Prime stuff well, a lot more intriguing in terms of a denouement, I think.





Diana Kingston-Gabai

said...

I don't know if it was intentional on Wagner's part, but what ends up happening is Christine, who assumes the role of Grendel as an extension of her identity as a mother, ultimately becomes the symbolic mother of all the Grendels who follow her. The journals that survive into Orion's time (which informs him about vampires) are hers, not Hunter's. In fact, that's part of what was so surprising about "Devil Quest" - Grendel-Prime was looking for Hunter Rose, but I don't recall any evidence before that suggesting that anyone even remembered Hunter Rose.

As an aside, welcome aboard. :)





Kazekage

said...

Well, I can't beleive it took me forever to find the place. . .no, wait. . .actually I can. I am very slow.

I think it might have been accidental, because by Orion's time he's estabilshes a patriarchal dominance (more or less--it's how I read the whole "men conceiving children" deal), but that's really only on the surface--there are a lot of women characters moving behind the scenes (and by the time of War Child not-so-behind-the-scenes. It's kind of interesting that there's a matriarchal undercurrent at the same time. It's hard to tell. Wagner has a real subtle touch.

Then again, Christine and Stacy are, I think, some of the lynchpin characters in the whole saga.

As for remembering Hunter, the first Grendel Tales series (Four Devils One Hell) I think, had a bunch of stuff about Hunter Rose's descendant and stuff but Wagner didn't write it so I'm not sure it counts, and like the whole "quest for Hunter's skull" thing, I felt like it didn't lead anywhere that would be ultimately interesting, namely Batman/Grendel 2.

Shame too--the first B/G is positively amazing (I wasn't sure if you'd tracked it down yet?) It has some interesting buttresses to your 'female Grendel' theories, which I'm really finding intriguing.





Diana Kingston-Gabai

said...

You just have to remember to take that left turn at Alberquerque. :)

The thing about Orion is that, from the time of Eppy Thatcher, he's led by women: first his sisters, then Sherri and Fadi, and finally Laurel the Dancing Widow. You also have women like Susan Veraghen joining the Grendel army as equals. So if the Assante dynasty is a patriarchy, it's a patriarchy that practices gender equality, which is something you don't usually see in fiction. :)

I actually found and read both Batman/Grendel stories, and... well, you're right that the first one, with Hunter, was better than the second, but then I prefer mind games to wanton violence. :) However, it was pretty much what I expected in terms of being a self-neutralizing story - in that sort of conflict, neither protagonist can ever really defeat the other definitively, and yet one of the things I love about "Grendel" is precisely Wagner's decisiveness, that idea that being in an iconic position of power is no guarantee of success or survival.