Friday, November 09, 2007

Beowulf Movie Comic Book

Since no one invited me to a press screening of Beowulf (*sniff*sniff*), I'll have to settle for the comic book version. Oh, and the novelization Geekerati is sending me.

I'm going to be writing about the comic book here, not the movie -- but since the comic book is "Based on the Screenplay," we can assume that most of the changes to the Beowulf story in the movie are found here. If you don't want to know those changes before seeing the movie, stop reading here.

This comic book (really a single binding of a four-part series) follows the poem in a rough sort of way. The basic outline is there: Grendel attacks Heorot Hall, Beowulf shows up to help Hrothgar, Beowulf rips off Grendel's arm, he confronts Grendel's mother, and years later sacrifices himself to defeat the dragon.

It also deviates in some significant ways. The entire action takes place among the Danes -- Beowulf, after arriving, never leaves. One of the monsters isn't killed (allowing for a cliche horror-movie-style ending leaving the possibility for a sequel), Grendel's mother is a sexy shapeshifter, and both Beowulf and Hrothgar are basically jerks. As with so many other adaptations of Beowulf, the monsters are in some way related to both Hrothgar and Beowulf.

I think the changes work, for the most part. A few are ridiculous; for example, at one point Hrothgar needs to be removed from the narrative, and Gaiman and Avary remove him in the most mawkish melodramatic way. The structure of the comic is based around four monster encounters: Beowulf's fight with the sea monsters during the swimming contest with Brecca, the encounters with Grendel, Grendel's MILF, and the dragon. In between we basically have a lot of mead hall singing and wenching.

If this is faithful to the film version, here's what you can expect: Buxom wenches, monsters, more wenching, more monster, wenching the queen, sexy monster, barely-legal wenching, climactic monster, roll credits. Essentially, think 300 with more wenching.

Gaiman and Avary do something interesting in terms of the theme of storytelling that I think works, even though I don't like it. Again and again the narrative returns to the unreliability of storytelling (often represented by song in the comic book, just as in the poem). We keep hearing stories that turn out to be unreliable, and we are left to understand that the poem of Beowulf is one of these unreliable stories: praise for a hero who was less-than-noble behind the scenes.

Since I'm not really a comic book kinda guy, I can't really speak with any authority about the artwork, except to say that I really liked it, and certainly liked it a lot better than the DC Comics Beowulf series from the '70s. My only complaint about the art is that the women (except for Wealthow) all seemed to have the same face, except that this one has braids and that one has red hair. The men are much more varied.

One last note -- Unferth gets rehabilitated a bit here, which seems to be a trend in Beowulf adaptations ... you either make Unferth a terrible bad guy, or you allow him to redeem himself in ways that other characters do not.


  1. That notion of the unreliability of storytelling seems to be what Gaiman was going for in adapting the poem. There was a comment by him on his blog that I read an excerpt of that basically stated his disagreement with the 'educational' materials packaged with the film, and laid out a bit of his reasoning.

    There doesn't seem to be a clean way to just link to the particular post, so I'll cut and paste the germane portion below:

    Incidentally, I think the educational pack done for Beowulf is simply wrong. Part of the point of the Beowulf movie that Roger and I wrote is the places it diverges from the story of Beowulf, and the ways it explores the relationship between a person and a story about a person. I don't think they should be putting the stuff we made up on material intended for schools -- it seems like a way of justifiably irritating teachers, who have enough to put up with when they try to teach Beowulf without us making their lives harder. It would have been much more interesting to have put up either the original, or one that talked about the differences -- I'd absolutely encourage high schoolers to see our version and talk about what changed and why.

  2. Medieval Geek, how can I find that quote? I wanted to write a post contrasting that with something Roger Avary said, but I couldn't find it. I sent my student assistant onto the website, and she couldn't find it either.

  3. The link to his journal is here. What I had to do to find that snippet is do a search on the page for a particular phrase -- I used "absolutely encourage high schoolers" -- and that took me to the pertinent info.

  4. Umm, wait...there's also a novelization of the movie? Can't they release, say, the Seamus Heaney translation of the poem with a new cover based on the movie's promotional materials?

  5. Hey Dr. Nokes, get this: one of my students brought yet *another* Beowulf comic -- really, a true graphic novel -- to class the other day. It was quite lovely in design, from what I saw. I should've paid more attention to when it was made, though. Anyway, I opened to a random page, which happened to be the fight with Grendel, and lo and behold, Beowulf was naked except for what looked like 6th century tightie-whities. And Grendel looked a lot like the art design for G in Zemeckis's film. Hmmm. I think when Avary says "it's in the poem!" he really means "it's in the graphic novel I read to remind me of the poem I haven't read since the high school class in which I got a C." (Last week's Entertainment Weekly is where he said he got a C in that class.)

    And from what Gaiman says in Geek's comment, I even more inclined to blame Avary for shooting off his mouth re: "it's in the poem," and now also the studio for the "educational" materials. Gaiman has redeemed himself. Now maybe I'll read his work, which many of my friends keep recommending. (Like you I'm not of the "Gaiman can do no wrong" party.) He sounds pretty thoughtful, at least.

    And meanwhile, I *love* "Grendel's MILF"! Too funny!

  6. PS -- The graphic novel my student brought was from the public library, so I know it pre-existed the movie.

  7. Dr. Virago,

    You said, "And from what Gaiman says in Geek's comment, I even more inclined to blame Avary for shooting off his mouth re: "it's in the poem," and now also the studio for the "educational" materials. Gaiman has redeemed himself."

    That was going to be the point of my post, basically pointing out that nearly every really stupid thing said had been said by Avary, and all the smarter things had been said by Gaiman. I'm no Gaiman partisan, but even *I* noticed that.

  8. Ack, of course I meant "I'm even more inclined..."

    And yeah, I'm no Gaiman partisan either, but I have to admit I have always found Avary annoying, so I am prone to blaming him.