Batman/Grendel was the first time I'd seen Grendel and to this day remains one of my favourite Batman stories and is hands down my favourite work by the ever changing Wagner.
I'd originally been attracted to Grendel Tales because of Grendel prime which, although I was a pretty pleasant teenager, spoke to me fore being "Cool", "Dark" and "Edgy", a case it turns out of liking the right things for the wrong reasons. The eclectic early Grendel Tales artists Rob Walton and Paul Grist did nothing for me (I must stress, "at the time"!). You had to pick them up though for the short painted back-ups by Wagner which were leading up to Batman/Grendel 2, the slightly disappointing sequel.
The two parter by Macan and Biuković changed everything for me. Not since Batman Year One had I seen such acting, such emotion in a comic with not one misstep in the storytelling meaning it's only on rereading where it strikes you how notable the work is, carrying you through without any distracting mistakes. The story is only nominally anything to do with Grendel and is clearly influenced by the conflict going on in Yugoslavia at the time with abstract leadership setting a nation to war with itself.
The story is that of a dying soldier, Drago, poisoned by the enemy's dirty weapons looking to die with honour while tribal politics try to stop him, his younger brother looking on. The tribe's blind leader rules with the aid of his young son literally directing him (from up on his shoulders) until he sets up an epic betrayal. In TWO issues!!!!
|Spoiler. One of the final scenes from the final chapter of Devils and Deaths|
The pair returned after a break with a four part sequel which continued the story with Drago's younger brother Goran among an expanded cast and a larger scale. The fact that this book is out of print is a flat out crime but if it can be found on Amazon etc, snap it up. This was a book I sold hand over fist while working in the comic shop with a money back guarantee that was only ever used once, and he was just a contrary idiot.
(Before continuing I have to mention the handpainted colour by Matt Hollingsworth which was subtle and naturalistic, completing the package)
Biuković was apparently not great with deadlines so his Star Wars X-Wing Rogue Squadron series was finished by Gary Erkine which was respectable enough but Biuković was a tough act to follow and it falls a little flat.
|One of the latter pagesof Last Command|
Olivier Vatine's first book was beautiful and stylised with hints of Simonson and Leialoha. The second book has Terry Dodson inked by Kevin Nowlan ending up as neither fish nor fowl with a fair ammount of heavy photo referencing resulting in a fairly flat experience.
Biuković turning up for the final series was very welcome although it wasn't the Biuković I was expecting. I intially put the change in stlye down to Eric Shanower's inking on all but the first issue but upon hindsight that makes no sense at all (I was young). The cleaner style turned out to be an evolution in style for Biuković. He was moving towards a more fastidious style with no excess rendering, a less is more, no fuss style. The acting, pacing, composition was still perfect with a couple of clunky pages but he was obviously investing more time in a slick finish that I don't think helped him get any faster. You can't help but sense some Lucas involvement with likenesses.
|Human Target Issue 2, Page one. Ledge hanger more than Cliffhanger.|
Biuković's staging of Milligan's script was absolutely perfect, with Milligan writing a taught, psychological thriller with heart and Watchmen style scene transitions which a lesser artist would not have been able to bring to life. A perfect project for an artist walking so fine a line as a great comic storyteller with an eye very much on what cinematography can add. Four issues of text book action comic storytelling.
His last strip had him reunitied with Darko Macan and was literally a fantastic love letter to soldiers written from the point of view of the women they leave behind.
This was tragically his last story as he died two weeks after being diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of thirty. To this day the loss saddens me, so young and such a talent gone before the comics world got a chance to know it should miss it.
We're left with the above mentioned works, a few early strips reprinted in Negative Burn and a couple of covers which are shown below. The first piece of original art below belongs to this guy, the rest are mine.