Time Capsule: Translated from the Old English

The label says March 1976...

Last year, Gail Simone resurrected a couple of sword&sorcery types from DC's archives and made them accompany Wonder Woman on a quest. Among them, a jerk called Beowulf. The guy from English lit's very first text? Or something else entirely? This forgotten 6-issue series will tell us!

BEOWULF #1-6, DC Comics, April 1975 to March 1976
The series takes place "in a distant path shrouded in the mists of time; when men lived savagely in the shadow of all-mighty Wyrd, the god of fate, and in the terror of Satan, dragon-lord of the Underworld." How's THAT for a mish-mash? The Viking concept of wyrd replacing the Norse gods, and Satan recast as a dragon lord! Those responsible: writer Michael Uslan and artist Ricardo Villamonte.

Truth be told, despite the promise of "devil-haunted castles", this isn't far off from the literary roots of the actual Beowulf, a Viking Saga that came down to us through the lense of a Christian monk, in which the monsters had the mark of Cain and an anachronistic monotheism ruled the day. One thing they got wrong for sure is the hall of Beowulf's kinsmen. A Viking hall:

The comic's idea of a Viking hall:
Also wrong: How helmets work.
So ok, we're in the Time of Myths again (which explains how Wonder Woman can eventually cross over). And much like the scholar who first put Beowulf to paper, Uslan brings a little of his time into the story's timeless time. The characters mix the tried and true vocabulary of the genre with an unmistakable American idiom. And then there's Beowulf's female companion, a former slave-maiden of Satan our hero slaps into submission called Nan-Zee(!).
And now... Implied violence.
But who cares about Beowulf, really? Is Grendel in it? Answer: Yes!
They don't meet until issue #4 (and only briefly), but in the meantime, Beowulf overcomes various threats - swamp men, pigmy headhunters, trolls, Dracula, aliens, the Minotaur, etc. - and Uslan name-drops Satan quite a lot. This is probably the most Satanic comic I've ever read.
Now you know the set-up, here are some of the highlights..

Issue #2: Beowulf and friends fall through quicksand... and into HELL!
Issue #3: Nan-Zee impales two pygmies on her sword.
Issue #4: Beowulf helps the Lost Tribe of Israel defeat Vlad the Impaler! (Some scripts may be written like exquisite corpses.)
Issue #5: Beowulf makes a flying saucer crash into Atlantis, making the continent sink beneath the waves. (Does Arion know about this?)
Some context: It's the aliens who built Stonehenge and who put Ulysses and his crew in stasis, creating the legend of the Odyssey. Just so we're clear.

Issue #6: Grendel murders Satan and takes his place!
And... that's it. Another attempt to cash in on Marvel's Conan ends abruptly without a resolution. You can't even take the 6 issues as a prologue to the poem itself (with Beowulf completing a quest to make himself strong enough to defeat Grendel), because they just don't match up. Did Grendel manage to keep hold of Hell or did Dracula give him grief? Was Beowulf able to kill Grendel with his new-found strength? What about Grendel's mother? Or the sorcerous Shaper?

I dare say this is a better comic today than it was in the mid-70s, simply because of its anything goes, Xena-era, historical mash-up which speak to fans of "pure comics" today.
Yes, "wyrd" indeed. "Wyrd" indeed.

SO HAVE OUR FOREFATHERS SPOKEN!

4 comments:

De said...

This looks like the sort of thing that can only be read while wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt with AC/DC playing in the background.

Siskoid said...

Why would you mix bands like that?

The Mutt said...

This is one of the great lost comics.

I bought these off the spinner racks. I was crushed when it was cancelled.

Soooo much more sex and violence than the usual DC fare of the time. Dracula showing up blew my mind. And then flying saucers. Awesome.

Sea-of-Green said...

Wow. I don't remember the epic poem being QUITE that ... er ... action-packed! ;-)

 

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