Thursday, July 24, 2008
Discount Bin Finds -- Beowulf, Dragon Slayer #1-6
Every now and again, you come across a random comic book or series which is just so far off the map that reading it is a pure joy. Something just so beyond the norms and conventions -- for whatever reason and in whatever dimension -- that you find yourself grabbing each issue in rapid succession, wanting to keep the high going, and, once finished, going back and doing it all over again. I have found such a comic book title.
It is DC's Beowulf, Dragon Slayer, and it is a thing of pure beauty. I discovered this title thanks to the DC Implosion article on Dial B For Blog (a very informative and useful article on the topic, I might add!) from the house ad for DC's new line of sword and sorcery comics. I had heard of Tor and Claw The Unconquered, but I was intrigued by this title. A comic book adaption of Beowulf from DC in the 70s? At the very least I thought it would be a quaint and amusing read. I did some research and saw some glimpses into how this series worked, and decided that I had to own it. At HeroesCon I picked it up, and I am so glad I did.
Let me tell you just the through-line story for this title, and then you tell me what you think, alright? Beowulf, responding to the call from Hrothgar to come to the Mead-hall to fight Grendel, ends up picking up a Swedish barbarian princess (Nan-Zee) and then being sidetracked by Grendel's master, Satan. Satan, the ever-powerful chessmaster, sends Beowulf on a quest to find the venom of the Black Viper to the West, and then the Zumak fruit to the East, and only then may he fight Grendel. Traveling West, Beowulf first runs into a band of pygmies, and then has to fight the giant serpent. In the East, Beowulf runs into the lost tribe of the Israelites, who are currently at war with Vlad the Impaler. Satan snatches Beowulf and his men back to the Mead-Hall to placate Grendel, whom he promised a battle with Beowulf, but Grendel is unable to finish the job before Satan sends them back to the dessert to fight Vlad. "Big Evil" is impressed with Vlad, so he kills him and turns him into his new apprentice, Dracula. This angers Grendel, who now plots to murder Satan, while Beowulf and his crew end up being abducted by aliens at a duplicate version of Stonehenge, and being sent to Atlantis, where they cause it to sink. Beowulf then heads to Crete and wrestles a minotaur while Grendel makes good on his threat and kills Satan, assuming control of Hell.
Needless to say this is the most heavy metal comic book ever written.
Seriously though, as far as sword and sorcery comics go, this series is a real change of pace in the way it mixes elements from different mythologies together with such reckless abandon. It gets to the point where each twist and turn is simply accepted by the reader (of course there are aliens!) and you find yourself just wanting to see what outrageous chain of events is going to unfold next. It's too bad that this series only lasted six issues before being caught up in the DC Implosion, otherwise, it makes me happy to know that somehow, someway, Beowulf and Nan-Zee would have fought in the Crisis.
The series itself is very silly (no!), and very over-the-top. Scribe Michael Uslan explains in the editorial pages that he is working from not only the original poem but also various other adaptions of Beowulf over the centuries, trying to create something new and different from everything which has come before. And while I do not doubt those motivations, it soon becomes clear that Uslan was just cutting loose and having fun, and the work shines because of it; the writer is having fun, and so it follows that the reader too has fun. The art is also quite nice for the era. Peruvian Ricardo Villamonte's work is dynamic and weighty, without aping the styles of say Windor-Smith or the Severins, and is a very good fit for the fantastical elements as well. His depictions of beasts such as Grendel and Satan are memorable and unique (his Grendel looking like something of a mix between a 50s Marvel monster and something from Stan Winston Studios), and his backgrounds range from lush and artistic to harsh and immediate.
I picked up the entire series, all six issues, for $5. And let me tell you, gentle readers, that it is quite possibly the best $5 I have ever spent on comics, no joke. The amount of enjoyment and pleasure I got from reading these overblown, inane adventures of the Prince of Geats is beyond off the charts. And with Beowulf recently returning to the pages of DC Comics over in Wonder Woman, now is a perfect time to track down his original adventures. Anyone looking for a fun short series, looking for something out of the ordinary, or some s&s stuff which is unlike anything else should definitely seek out Beowulf, Dragon Slayer. You will be glad you did!
(For more info on this series, check out BeowulfTranslations.net and Beowulf In Comics!)