Beowulf: He ain’t Conan (#SFWApro)

The title may sound like it’s stating the obvious, but there’s more to it. I’m talking not about the Anglo-Saxon epic poetry hero but the DC sword-and-sorcery character based (sort of) on him.

beowulf4Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian was a big game-changer. It wasn’t the first Silver Age/Bronze Age sword-and-sorcery book—DC’s Nightmaster preceded the Cimmerian by about a year—but it proved a breakout hit (Nightmaster was a flop), and thereby inspired imitation. Marvel stuck to similar ideas, such as Howard’s King Kull, or Conan knock-offs such as Thongor and Brak the Barbarian.

DC, by contrast looked further afield. It introduced Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser to their own series (so poorly done I may have to blog about it another time), and created original characters Stalker and Claw (who I’ll definitely write about another time). And turned Beowulf into a comic-book hero. None of them worked—DC wouldn’t have a genre success until Mike Grell’s Warlord in the mid-seventies. Then again King Kull and Red Sonja (based on a Robert E. Howard character) were Marvel’s only other S&S hits, so I guess there’s no miracle comics formula for this genre.

Back to Beowulf (cover by Ricardo Villamonte, all rights to current holder). Written by Michael Uslan, this was one weird book, which is why I’ve been meaning to blog about it since rereading it.

The series retains the basic set-up, King Hrothgar summoning Beowulf to help destroy Grendel, the monster terrorizing Hrothgar’s great mead-hall of Heorot. Quite aside from Beowulf’s non-Saxon garb, the opening issue or two give us added characters: the warrior woman Nan-Zee, the sorcerer Shaper—and remake a couple of others. Unferth, Beowulf’s jealous rival, is now a sorcerer in his own right.

Oh, and we learn in the second issue that Grendel is Satan’s agent on Earth, there to spread misery and despair (it’s implied he’s also a byblow of Satan). Satan (a rather barbaric look by Villamonte) cheerfully taunts Beowulf that he can’t beat Grendel (as proves to be the case) without a magic potion, so the mighty Geat heads off with Nan-Zee and his friends to get the ingredients. The quest leads them into run-ins with gods from outer space, Greek myths, minotaurs, oh, and Dracula. Who is as far removed from the real Vlad Tepes, Drakul, as Beowulf is from the poem—no, further. He simply shows up hunting the wandering tribes of Israel and drinking blood (“I never drink … wine.”) even before Beowulf kills him. At which point Satan turns him into a vampire out of respect for his evilness.

This leads to a plotline in which Grendel, realizing he’s losing Satan’s support, kills and replaces Satan, then prepares to battle Dracula. I’ve no idea how that would have played out, as this was the last of the six issue run.

The book certainly isn’t A-list, but it is quite fun in an over-the-top way. And an interesting example of what you get when you throw everything but the kitchen sink into a series.


Filed under Comics, Reading

4 responses to “Beowulf: He ain’t Conan (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: Looks like conan, lives like Elric: Claw the Unconquered | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Darryl Gates

    Hi….Just was looking up some of my favourite comics from the 1970s especially Claw and Beowulf!!..and your blog came up…..the bizare thing I lived in Bushey during the 1970s/80s…my Dad was at RAF Bentley Priory (next door to Stanmore) and am pretty much the same age…a big fan of Elric and most of the sword and sorcery from that time!!!Just thought i’d say hi from across the pond!…I pretty much followed a similar trajectory in that I wanted to be an artist against the grain of everyone else and eventually did!!Darryl!

  3. Congrats on achieving your dream. Thanks for commenting.
    It’s funny, someone who used to live in Stanmore just joined my writing group. Normally I go years without encountering anyone who even knows where it is.

  4. Pingback: Swords and sorcery but without enough magic? Some DC comics | Fraser Sherman's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.