Friday, July 13, 2007

"Beowulf: Dragon Slayer" No.1


The monster Grendel rises from the swamps and attacks Castle Hrothgar, angry about the "sounds of life" coming from the men within. The scop (known also as "The Shaper") appears to Beowulf and through a cryptic prophecy tells him of the troubles at Castle Hrothgar. This same scop appears in Hrothgar's court and tells them of Beowulf's approach, just before Grendel's attack. Meanwhile, on the sea voyage to the Castle Hrothgar, Beowulf and his men encounter a beautiful siren luring them into the Underworld. Beowulf defeats the demons controlling the siren, and we learn that she is Nan-zee, a Swedish Scylfing warrior who is nearly Beowulf's match in battle. As Beowulf and his companions (including Nan-zee) approach the Castle Hrothgar, Unferth fears humiliation, and so he casts a spell that casts them into a swamp, where they are attacked by "Swamp Men -- Disciples of Satan!"

In this first comic, it appears that the writers are going to try to include some thematic elements from the Beowulf poem. "Wyrd" is referred to as "the God of Fate," Beowulf says that he will fight for "'lof,' or fame as some call it," and the scop appears to have some central role, though he becomes "The Shaper," rather than God. All that gets abandoned really quickly.

Beowulf himself appears as a sort of general barbarian figure, when we first see him, he is killing, and violence isn't just his main approach to any situation -- it's his ONLY approach. Consider the rather S&M way in which he woos the lovely Nan-zee:

Not exactly the method I'd use, but it appears to work for him. Hey, are you a 12-year-old boy confused about girls? Here's some advice from DC comics: When you meet a girl you like, make fun of her and her nationality, then punch her into the mud.* Chicks dig that.

The idea of a siren is our first hint that this whole series is going to be a mash-up, mostly with classical mythology. As the series progresses, Beowulf encounters a whole bunch of non-Beowulfian creatures and situations. Nan-zee herself is a mash-up, since she is an Amazon-type siren/warrior (classical Mediterranean) rescued by a Geatish warrior (medieval Germanic) from her enthrallment by demons of Satan (Judeo-Christian).

The character of Unferth doesn't make any sense. First of all, his garb is quite strange compared to that of others, making him look like he's dresses as a lizard at a costume party (just in case you missed it, this is called "Beowulf: Dragon Slayer," hint hint). On the one hand, he's supposed to be a some kind of tough guy, but on the other we are told he is "arthritic." His role appears to be the all-purpose bad guy in Hrothgar's court.

Interestingly, this first book seems to have literary pretensions. Though the notes at the end contrast it with "Classics Illustrated" comics, the writers do refer to it as "educational" and "an Epic in Comic-Book form." Also, the scop at one point suddenly launches into a speech that uses alliteration, kennings and oral formulae:

The world-candle burns as the life-sphere turns; To Beowulf, boon of the Geats!
He swings his sword -- his iron-killer lord! His might explodes across this
blue-orb Earth, as rosy-fingered dawn brings peace to the land of his birth!

OK, Caedmon meets Homer it ain't, but you can see what they are trying to do. I wonder how many kids tried writing book reports based on the comic?

*UPDATE: After posting this, I realized that the image was not clear enough to read the page. Here are the six panels in the image:

  1. Nan-zee stabs a bat-demon that was attacking Beowulf.
  2. Beowulf: "You saved my life! Why? Who are you? I thought--" Nan-zee: "You thought like the bull-headed male you are! My name is Nan-zee! I'm a Scylfing warrior who--"
  3. Beowulf: "You?!? A warrior? A woman a warrior? HA-HA-HA-HA-HA! And a Swede no less! HA-HA-HA-HA!"
  4. Nan-zee lays out Beowulf with a hard right to the chin. BOFF
  5. Nan-zee (as Beowulf hits the mud): "As I was saying -- I was caught in Satan's whirlpool when he destroyed my ship! Coming ashore here, I became possessed by his spirits and forced to guard this entrance into the underworld!
  6. Nan-zee: "Finally when --OH!" as Beowulf knocks her into the mud too, and says "Wench!"


  1. A former student of mine gave me this series a few years ago. It truly is a hoot. By the final issue, you can really see the writers larding on the preposterous cameos and inane plot developments in an aggressive attempt to fulfill some sort of contractual obligation. It's terrific stuff.

  2. Jeff,

    I've only got six comics. Elsewhere, I've seen the series referred to as six in length, but it doesn't really appear to be drawing to a close at the end of the sixth. I'm assuming it was discontinued mid-story. Do you have any beyond the first six, or is that all there is?

  3. Nope, they made only those six issues. Alas, we may never know what happens to Beowulf, Dragon-Slayer. Fortunately, he lives on in our crappily illustrated, badly paced, poorly printed dreams...

  4. I can't wait until you do a Camelot 3000 discussion on this site as a companion piece to this one.

    If you do, I promise to do a review of Days of Wonder's "Shadows over Camelot" game this weekend.

  5. You know...

    The San Diego Comi-con starts July 26th, DC comics will be there.. $65.00 I don't have would get me in the door and I could ask the DC folks if anybody remembers Beowulf, Dragon Slayer and what they have to say about it. Unless another reader of this blog is going and could ask about the comic.

    (There's a PayPal tipjar on my site folks can use for donations if you think sending me the membership fee is a good idea. Or you could, you know, write to DC comics and save yourself some cash.)

  6. Anonymous9:15 PM

    'tint Grendel or some such modernist take, and 'taint as well written, but it seems refreshingly immediate, wot? That has a value all it's own.

  7. Keith in Bakersfield3:01 AM

    I own issues #1 #5 and #6, but are they available as a download somewhere so that I can read all six of them? I thought these were very good and hold up to this day.

  8. got this comic book awhile back as a kid, just came upon this site. I'm using this issue in my final senior kind of essay thing at school

  9. Anonymous1:08 AM

    Beowulf/Grendel original V.S. novel V.S. movie V.S. comic!