OK, we’re gonna get real deep here, so stick with me. This is our first foray outside of Marvel or DC comics, and I chose one of my favorite evil bastards of comics ever, Pope Innocent XLII from Matt Wagner’s epic series, Grendel.
First we’ll cover a bit of Grendel history. Grendel started as the story of a man named Hunter Rose, a mob assassin who became the most powerful crime lord in history. Hunter, under the guise of Grendel, is killed in a battle against his greatest enemy, Argent the Wolf, an immortal man-wolf who works for the police. The death of Hunter Rose was set up by his adopted daughter, Stacy Palumbo, who hated Hunter for killing her father.
Cut to the future where we follow Christine Spar, the daughter of Stacy. Christine has written a book about Hunter Rose, which has become a bestseller. Christine’s son is kidnapped by a vampire named Tujiro, who travels the world as a super famous Kabuki dancer. Christine, looking to save her son or, if it is too late, avenge him, takes on the persona of Grendel and hunts down Tujiro. This brings Argent out of retirement. Christine and Argent both die in a brutal battle. Tujiro gets away, but the world learns that there are vampires, so go with that.
Brian Li Sung, the stage manager for the theater that Tujiro was performing at, becomes obsessed with Christine Spar and Grendel. He believes that the spirit of Grendel is possessing him, and takes on the mantle. Brian Li Sung is killed by the police.
Cut even further into the future! Thanks to Christine Spar’s book and a second book about Hunter Rose, the idea of Grendel has become a pop sensation. As it turns out, Grendel is indeed a form of spirit that happens to possess people from time to time, usually leading them down a path of evil. The Grendel spirit reaches what appears to be its ultimate goal when it causes a nuclear war.
Further to the future we go, all the way to the 26th Century! The world is still rebuilding from the nuclear war. The United States no longer exists, but has instead been broken up into separate corporate systems that all answer to the Catholic Church, now based in “Vatican Quest” in the mountains of Colorado. The current pope is Innocent XLII, and he is a mean son of a bitch, taxing the nation into poverty and killing pretty much anyone he wants.
Unknown to Innocent, down in the dregs are two men who are separately planning to take him down. One is Orion Assante, a corporate auditor who is secretly investigating the financial corruption of the Church. The other is Eppy Thatcher, a factory worker who is addicted to a drug called Grendel. Eppy begins to have hallucinations and becomes convinced that God is trying to kill him. To fight back, Eppy takes on the mantle of Grendel, which the Church has decreed to be the human visage of the devil, and becomes an anti-Church terrorist.
Orion, influenced by the stories of Eppy Thatcher, quietly builds an army to take down the Church and the Church’s Sun Gun (basically a smaller version of the Death Star). As Orion’s Grendel army, known as Orion’s Sword, attacks the Church, Eppy Thatcher invades Vatican Quest and reveals to the world that Innocent XLII is in reality the vampire Tujiro! With his plans falling apart, Tujiro decides to kill as many people as he can using his Sun Gun. Orion is able to blow the hell out of Vatican Quest before Tujiro can use his weapon. Tujiro and Eppy both appear to die when Vatican Quest is destroyed and, in the confusion of the moment, Orion and his Grendel army take over the country. From there, the power of Grendel spreads, taking over the world.
Matt Wagner didn’t pull the name Pope Innocent from out of thin air. There there have actually been a few Pope Innocents, the most famous of them being Pope Innocent III, who was also one of the most power hungry Popes of all time.
Born Lotario dei Conti di Segni sometime between 1160 and 1161, Pope Innocent III took control of the Catholic Church after the death of Celestine III. Innocent saw the Muslim invasion of Jerusalem in 1187 as a sign that the Church was not in God’s good graces, and he planned to change all that. Innocent reasserted the power of the papacy by taking away the ability for princes to be involved in the selection of bishops. He then made sure to place himself as the guardian of the four year old King Frederick II, and used his control over a child to recover papal rights in Sicily.
To further keep his power, Innocent III demanded that King Philip II of France suppress the Albigenses, a Christian dualist movement that was spreading through Southern Europe. The Albigensian Crusade would lead to the slaughter of over twenty thousand men, women and children. Enjoying this mini Crusade so much, Innocent decreed the Fourth Crusade, with plans to recapture the Holy Land. Unlike previous Popes who decreed Crusades, Innocent III was real hands on, not just instigating the murders of hundreds of thousands of people, but actively plotting them out. To pay for his Crusade, Innocent taxes his own clergy, taking forty percent of their income. The Fourth Crusade managed to capture Constantinople, but was not very successful overall. Most of the victories of the Church happened without Innocent III knowing about them until the battles were over.
Innocent III then called for the Fourth Lateran Council, where he brought together some 1200 clergymen and other powerful people dedicated to the Church in order to formulate a new plan to increase the Church’s power over the world by crafting new laws that would place the universal authority of the Empire at the feet of the Pope. Some of the new laws Innocent created included annual confessions of sins, the banning of clergy participation in judicial procedures and a mandate that Jews wear identifying markings on their clothing, leading to further hostilities towards the Jewish community. Innocent also created the “Sun and Moon” allegory – that the Pope is akin to the sun – the only source of light in the Empire, while he Emperor was the moon – one who merely reflects the light of the sun, and so has no real value.
Innocent III, wanting to cement himself in history as a jerk, annulled the Magna Carta, starting the First Barons’ War in which English landowners, with the support of the French army, rebelled against King John of England. The war would last a year and a half, ending with King John of England dying from dysentery, and the land barons switching sides to fight off Prince Louis and his French army, who had taken over London and named himself King of England.
With his newly found powers over the Empire, Innocent III started planning the Fifth Crusade for 1217. On the 16th of July, 1216, while in Perugia, Italy, Pope Innocent III died suddenly. Everyone decided, pretty quickly, that Innocent was in purgatory. The decision that he was in purgatory came from a vision Saint Lutgrada had of Innocent III shortly after his death. She claimed that Innocent III appeared to her, engulfed in flames and begged her to pray for his soul. In the vision, Innocent III said that he was trapped in purgatory because of three faults. I’m betting the death of well over a million people during his two Crusades was fault number one.
Grendel is a really fantastic series, and you can buy the entire series in four volumes that can be easily purchased either in paperback or digitally. I really suggest you do. I’d also recommend you pick up any Grendel Tales comics you can find. While they aren’t written by Matt Wagner, they are authored by some great talents and they really help expand the universe.
JK Snyder III
The Pander Brothers
*All Photos: Comico, Dark Horse Comics