Last time, we checked out what Hollywood has made of the most important piece of Anglo-Saxon literature – The poem of Beowulf. In this article, we’ll have a look at what writers have done with the idea of a noble Geat. This includes disembodied spirits, trademark issues and killer robots built by Batman.
For a detailed recap of the original poem, check out the first part of the Beowulf coverage. There’s a lot of trailers for Beowulf-movies.
DC Comics: Beowulf – The Dragon Slayer (1975)
«Beowulf… an Epic in Comic-Book Form», Allan Asherman writes in the backmatter of the first issue of DC Comics’ 1975 series Beowulf – The Dragon Slayer. And they admit that it’s been tried before. It being the retelling of the poem from a thousand years ago. Why is DC Comics trying its hand now with Beowulf? is the question that follows. The answer: «Because we’re doing it the right way!»
The right way is Beowulf never facing off against the scaly beast Grendel who was sent by satan himself. But before the two can face off, Beowulf, gaudily dressed in something that resembles a huge belt and a horned helmet, has to fight aliens and take a siren named Nan-Zee under his wing.
The comic book goes and tell the further stories of Beowulf, «including his adventures as a sea-raider, a warrior, a wanderer, a prince and a king». And not just that. Mr. Asherman writes that DC is doing their best to produce a comic book that everyone will be proud to bring to their classroom and show to their teacher.
The comic book lasted six issues and ends with Beowulf proclaiming that he must go to Daneland to fight Grendel, who had become King of Hell. So much for historical accuracy.
Eaters of the Dead (1976)
John Crichton’s 1976 novel Eaters of the Dead is inspired by two sources. One is the journey of Ahmad ibn Fadlan, a Muslim who travelled north in the 10th century. And the other is the poem of Beowulf. As such, creatures named wendol (sounds a lot like Grendel, doesn’t it?) appear. They’re described as «mist monsters», which might have served as an inspiration for the look of Grendel in the Christopher Lambert movie’s Grendel that we looked at last time. Only that they aren’t creatures in Crichton’s book. They’re human beings who identify with and live like bears. Bears who ride horses and use weapons, but bears nontheless.
Eaters of the Dead got its own movie. It starred Antonio Banderas and was released under the title of «The 13th Warrior».
Comic book writer and artist Matt Wagner took only the name of the creature in the Beowulf story and abandoned pretty much everything else about the character of the Hroðgar-terrorizing creature (the ð is pronounced like the English “th”). In Mr. Wagner’s vision, Grendel is a disembodied spirit of mysterious nature. It possesses crime-lords, mothers and religious people. The stories start off in current day when Grendel possesses Hunter Rose, who is a genius, an assassin, author and a master fencer. As a criminal, Hunter Rose – who was known as Eddie before he took up the name Hunter Rose – donned a mask and took a staff as a weapon. He became Grendel.
Years later, Christine Spar becomes Grendel. She is also an author and the daughter of the original Grendel’s adopted daughter. Christine has a son, Anson. When Anson gets kidnapped, Christine steals the mask and weapon of the original Grendel and thus, Grendel lives again. After a few encounters with opponents, Christine meets an untimely end. Her boyfriend, Brian Li Sung takes up the mantle. However, his mask is not the original one and he uses a bow and arrow instead of a staff.
The fourth Grendel is known as Eppy Thatcher, a very intelligent drug addict centuries in the future. More of a criminal than an avenger, Eppy fights the church which has become somewhat oppressive. But Eppy’s sanity slips away gradually and eventually, the name Grendel passes on to the next person: Orion Assante. Assante would turn into a benevolent ruler who would govern most of the world. During this time, he got a son named Jupiter who was to replace him as the leader of the world. But when Assante died, his son was deemed too young to rule. The corrupt Laurel Kennedy took over and ruled for ten years.
It was then that Grendel Prime appeared. A solar-powered cyborg who frees Jupiter from an orphanage and fights to get him back onto the throne.
Although not related to Beowulf at all, it’s definitely worth checking out. The story is told over 26 issues that got collected.
Animaniacs #49: Brainwulf and Pinknarf (1999)
Remember the Animaniacs? That animated sketch comedy back in the 1990s that saw an ensemble cast do funny things? There was a segment called «Pinky and The Brain» that saw one hyper-intelligent and one dumb lab-rat trying to take over the world. The show got its own comic book that ran for 59 issues from 1995 to 2000. And in issue #49, the Animaniacs made fun of the classic stories. In «Brainwulf and Pinknarf», the two titular heroes scheme up a plan to take over Denmark which they call the world. To get there, they have to defeat a dragon named Grendel. Apart from now-dated jokes about Matt LeBlanc, his acting career and social health care, the book contains pretty clever references to the poem.
Of course, you can’t show two rats tear a dragon’s arm off in an all-ages comic book, but Brainwulf and Pinknarf defeat Grendel by having him stub his front foot. Even religious undertones are worked into the story.
Speakeasy Comics: Beowulf (2005)
Set in current day, this comic book by Speakeasy Comics has Beowulf as a crusader against all sorts of evil. In the first issue, he is tasked with calming down a superhuman man who casts himself as a hero but buggers up his first mission royally, injuring a police officer and accidentally taking hostages. At first glance, it has very little in common with the epic poem from a thousand years ago. Not even the name of the titular hero. Because he goes by Wulf these days.
Antarctic Press: Beowulf – aka. Biowulf (2006)
Once more, Beowulf’s story in this comic book by Antarctic Press is set in a post-apocalyptic future where people ride on insect-creatures and Hroðgar is now the king of the entire world. It’s a peaceful world right after the never-specified wars have ended. Beowulf is cast as a mercenary with a fashionable scar across his left eye. He is hired to kill Grendel because if the King can’t even keep his men from getting slaughtered in his own castle, some nations might rebel against Hroðgar’s rule. In this version, Grendel is some sort of humanoid dinosaur-reptile-cyborg who is immune to any and all weapons Hroðgar’s people have. As in the poem, Beowulf manages to rip off Grendel’s arm but Grendel causes some serious damage to our titular hero. Most notably, Grendel manages to tear off Beowulf’s arm which the mercenary then replaces with Grendel’s severed limb.
This comic book lasted three issues and ends with Beowulf flying off, claiming that “this war isn’t over”. Curiously enough, the book was also released under the title Biowulf. Antarctic Press Office Manager Doug Dlin explains the name change as follows: «<Beowulf> is a name in public domain. <BIOWulf> can be trademarked.»
Markosia: Beowulf (2010)
As amazing as this might sound, but there actually is a faithful adaptation of the Beowulf myth in comic book form. The latest of those is a graphic novel by Markosia. Written by Stephen L. Stern (as well as an anonymous poet a thousand years ago, whom the book doesn’t credit) and drawn by Christopher Steiniger, the book has all the things the original poem has. Beowulf’s origin, his travels, his facing off against Grendel and the slaying of the dragon who ultimately kills our hero.
Especially the part in which Beowulf rips Grendel’s arm off is pretty brutal. As with most other incarnations, both on screen and on page, the writers have opted to have Beowulf armed when going into combat with Grendel. Because tearing off a limb is no easy feat. And that’s what the Markosia book gets across nicely. It’s a struggle. Beowulf holds on to the monster’s arm for a long time, the monster fights back and when it finally happens, readers can feel the relief that our hero feels. It’s not just chopping a limb off, it’s a fight, it’s a struggle, it’s not senselessly maiming but it’s a heroic deed. Something that needs cunning and strength and sacrifice. And it makes Beowulf’s repeated claims of having no fear of strange beasts all the more credible.
The Markosia book does add to the story, however, so it’s basically the poem and then some. The book adds light comedy in parts and adds a bit of an epilogue to the story that shows us just what the legacy of Beowulf has become.
DC Comics: Sword of Sorcery (2012)
There seems to be an odd trend going on with Beowulf. And that is that the original time it’s set in just doesn’t seem spectacular enough. So they set Beowulf in a postapocalyptic future. This time, Beowulf is a mighty and tall warrior who has sockets for cables in his body and a bionic eye that analyzes whatever foe he encounters. Among them are Waynetech War-Drones. The story of Beowulf, you see, is that of the future of the New52 Universe, the universe that has happened after complete reboot in 2011.
Grendel is re-imagined to be a creature of a laboratory, his mother is a bald scientist with a butcher’s apron. And apparently, Beowulf and Grendel were made in the same laboratory. The story also builds on concepts introdunced in DC Comics’ New52 universe, such as The Red, which is the essence of all things flesh. The shape-shifting Grendel is apparently some sort of version or genetic abstraction or something of the DC Heroes Animal Man and Beast Boy who both had the ability to shapeshift into animals.
However, this adventure was a short one. Beowulf was a backup feature in a book called Sword of Sorcery. The backup ran for four issues, the comic itself was cancelled after only ten issues. Beowulf, however, came back in another issue of DC Universe presents where he travels to the present time. There, he encounters a scientist who follows him back to his own time. This story closes with the caption «The End?»