Alan Grant passed away in July 2022, leaving an incredible comic book legacy on both sides of the Atlantic. His name may not be discussed among comic fans enough, but much of what we read today owes a debt to his pioneering work between the 1980s and 2000s. Often referred to as one of the greatest comic writers of his generation, Grant earned his reputation for stunning and challenging runs on titles including Batman and 2000AD.
Without Grant, Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, Lobo, and even Batman wouldn’t be the characters we know today. His ability to refresh decade-old characters with alternative takes and his drive to make comics socially and politically aware inspired readers and creators alike.
Grant’s run on Batman: Shadow of the Bat in the 1990s ensured him a place among the great writers of the Dark Knight.
In the Shadow of the Bat
Following Grant’s death, the world of comics united in praise for a writer who didn’t sound like a typical fit for mainstream titles. Often satirical, latterly anarchist, and always political — he injected those qualities into independent and top-tier comics alike. As Batman writer Tom King said, he had a phenomenal ability to question “what superhero comics could be.”
For a key part of this career, Grant wrote with fellow Brit and Judge Dredd creator John Wagner — including seminal work at DC Comics. Even after their regular writing partnership ended, the two collaborated on comic classics, including the great Batman/Judge Dredd crossover Judgment on Gotham and the recent black comedy space-football comic Rok of the Reds.
Grant enjoyed a lengthy collaboration with Wagner, but he had an eye for the next generation of comic creators too. When he was editor of 2000AD, his search to bring more mature writers to the magazine led him to an unsolicited script from the unknown Alan Moore. That’s just one way Grant helped change comics. Comic giant Mark Millar paid tribute to the British writer, remembering the way Grant had coached many young comic writers with handwritten letters.
Grant played a crucial role in shaping the Modern Age of comics, even as he spent a fair amount of time parodying it. He popularized aspects of Batman that are now essential for every Dark Knight creator to respond to and develop. Naturally, Grant also created and co-created some memorable comic characters. Here are ten of his best.
Grant and Wagner introduced the Ventriloquist to Batman. The original pairing of meek Arnold Wesker and his psychotic, criminal mastermind puppet Scarface remains the definitive version of the character.
The ‘villains’ were a classic Gotham concept; grotesque, overbearing and incorporating just a hint of the supernatural. His ambiguity earned Ventriloquist a special place in Arkham Asylum and Batman’s Rogues Gallery. This was just one villain that proved how Grant and Wagner were going to be a significant force in the Dark Knight’s future, having introduced Ventriloquist in their first Batman story.
2. Durham Red
Strontium Dog, the story of mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha, was a mainstay of 2000AD from the early 1980s until co-creator Carlos Ezquerra died in 2018. Alpha was one of many characters Grant inherited and took to another level. He also introduced Durham Red, a fellow bounty hunter and love interest for Alpha, but with a mutant bloodlust that resembled vampirism. She took a leading role in the Strontium Dogs title after Alpha’s death before headlining a solo series that relocated her to the far future.
Anarky was the poster boy of the subversiveness Grant brought to DC Comics. Lonnie Machin was a child prodigy driven to overthrow governments that opened up political and philosophical stories in Detective Comics. There was an element of biography to Anarky — the villain’s anti-authority approach shifted to neo-tech and wealth redistribution as Grant’s interests changed. The character was an instant hit, although fans didn’t warm to Grant’s spin-off title, which even the writer dismissed.
In many ways, Anarky was ahead of his time; while his appearances dwindled when Grant left Batman, Anarky enjoyed a resurgence during DC Comics’ New 52 and Rebirth eras. He was a primary opponent in the short-lived CGI series Beware the Batman and, on the page, has increasingly become an antihero — occasionally helping the Bat Family.
4. Francis Clunie — the Bogieman
Grant, Wagner, and Robin Smith co-created this curio of British comics. An early limited series — independently published — and subsequent appearances established that Clunie’s was convinced that he’s a combination of multiple characters played by Humphrey Bogart.
The comic was an exploration of blurring reality, where the protagonist could count the imaginary thwarting of imaginary assassinations during his sporadic escapes from Spinbinnie Mental Hospital in Glasgow as career highlights. Clunie was an excellent addition to the long line of Mittyesque characters in fiction and was even adapted for a BBC television film in the early 1990s.
Before Bane, there came this anatomically named foe, but Amygdala was an unfortunate Batman villain with plenty of brute strength but little intelligence and strategy. A giant of a man, he was prone to extreme violence following brain surgery that, you guessed it, removed his amygdala nerve cluster.
It was easy to feel sympathy for this powerhouse, but he was often used as a lackey by other villains. The first to exploit him was Jeremiah Arkham as part of his attempts to teach Batman a lesson. The character has appeared outside comics in Justice League Unlimited, Gotham Season 2, and also lent his appearance to some familiar henchmen in the Arkham Asylum video game.
Lobo was one of the characters most associated with Grant; the writer grew the space mercenary from his supporting role in Omega Men and powered him through a limited and ongoing series. Grant used Lobo to shine a light on the grim comics that were exploding in popularity in the 1990s. Naturally, fans of Wolverine, Punisher, and other gritty characters that Lobo was intended to parody flocked to the ‘Main Man.’
Every great comic character needs an analog, and the third DC character carrying the name Goldstar was the opposite of Lobo. Grant wrote Ernest Widdle as kind, bureaucratic, and wanting decency to spread throughout the universe. Although Lobo repeatedly terrorized Goldstar, he still sacrificed himself to save the Czarnain bounty hunter. No wonder Lobo couldn’t stand him.
You may be most familiar with Ratcatcher from The Suicide Squad. A small cameo from Taika Waititi as Ratcatcher 2’s father might be the only adaptation of Grant’s co-creation we’ll see on the screen. Arriving in Wagner and Grant’s third Batman story, this rogue turned his profession into a villainous persona when he fell into crime.
Ratcatcher is villain suited to the dark alleys of Gotham and a great example of the darker villains the writers brought to their version of the city. Able to control an army of rats, using them to torture and restrain prisoners, Ratcatcher also had an in-depth knowledge of the city’s sewers, critical Gotham facilities, and mastery of cyanide gas.
8. Cornelius Stirk
One of Batman’s fear-based foes, but more than the Scarecrow with a cannibalistic streak. The brilliantly named Cornelius Stirk was oddly polite for a nocturnal murderer and always addressed people as ‘Sir.’ He used telepathic suggestions to trigger hallucinations that let him get close to his victims. As if he needed another quirk, his cannibalism came from a mistaken belief that he needed a particular fear-induced chemical from human hearts to survive.
His debut as an Arkham inmate underlined Jeremiah Arkham’s troubling methods. Still, he subsequently enjoyed memorable scenes in Knightfall and No Man’s Land and has been adapted in Gotham and the Batman Unburied podcast.
An android secret agent Grant created for the legendary British comic Eagle, Manix’s broad concept was fascinating. As an AI with no free will of its own, its superiors were happy for it to use methods at arm’s length they would never have considered at any other time.
Emerging two years before The Terminator hit movie theaters, Manix was often damaged on its missions, exposing its machinery under its synthetic skin as Eagle upgraded it from photo strip to full comic stories.
10. Victor Zsasz
Another vivid Batman rogue who’s had an insidious influence on the Dark Knight’s recent career. Grant co-created Mr. Zsasz in Shadow of the Bat #1 — a psychotic Batman foe best known for recording every kill on his body as tally gates. In recent years, Zsasz has broken from comics to reach movies, TV shows, and video games but remained one of Batman’s most elusive foes in comics. His most recent on-screen portrayal belongs to Chris Messina in the Margot Robbie-led Harley Quinn flick Birds of Prey (2020).
Grant provided an origin for the character in Batman Chronicles #3, typically drawing links to Bruce Wayne. Zsasz was a successful young businessman who lost his and his family’s wealth through gambling. Convinced that life was pointless, he became dedicated to liberating his victims from it. Alongside the tallies on his body, Zsasz rearranges his victims into lifelike poses to reinforce the point. Undoubtedly one of the Bat’s creepiest enemies, thanks to Alan Grant.