Sunday, February 26, 2006

When last we left

Image Hosted by was decided that he would embark on a quest to obtain the elements which will give him the mystic power that Satan had told him he needs to defeat Grendel, and end the woe that had befallen the residents of Castle Hrothgar. So they assembled a company to achieve this goal: Beowulf's usual posse of Nan-Zee, Wiglaf and Hondscio, along with the enigmatic Shaper and (this was Hrothgar's idea) the scheming Unferth and his creepy lackey "The Silent One". And that's where #3 begins.

On the ocean, as the company is attacked by a octopus-like monster. After a couple pages' worth of nautical bashing about and bon mot-slinging (BW: "Will-zon panicked like a new-born cub! Wiglaf-- you were to get me fourteen of the BEST warriors! How do you explain HIM? Wiggy: "Good help is hard to find these days, my prince!" Wiggy: NOTHING halts this choking monster! Of ALL the enemies from which to pick, YOU had to choose SATAN himself! BW: "My poor taste in enemies is surpassed only by my poor taste in COMRADES!"), they dispatch the sea monster via a Beowulf mace to the head. As they climb back on the ship, they notice that Unferth was once more absent during the struggle, and confront him. Pissed off and embarrassed, like most cowardly scoundrels are, he slinks off and plots to do BW harm. BW then turns to the Shaper, to ask him how to counter the devil (although why Satan is presumably sending monsters to hinder the company is beyond this reader), and his reply is to summon Wyrd, the God of Fate and BW's deity of choice- and ask him for advice. Wyrd appears as a skull-faced specter, and delivers a cryptic prophecy which amounts to "Don't worry- just keep on doing what you're doing!" Thanks, Wyrd.

They soon arrive at the island where the Black Viper dwells. It has a big skull-shaped mountain, just like another well-known island which we are all familiar with, I'm sure. They split up to get the lay of the land and meet later, but Unferth and his stooge hang back, intent on cooking up more trouble for our hero. What they do is summon a demon, who will "usher those fools into a world of madness and death!" And by casting a spell which says "This is dedicated to Winsor (sic) McCay" backwards, summons the sprite Little Omen (again, read it backwards) who casts BW and company into "Nightmareland", where they have a most terrifying experience, reliving their worst fears and dreams...until the Shaper decides he's had enough and casts a counter-spell which chases away Omen and leaves them where they started. Must have been all in their minds, they decide. Either way, they don't have long to ponder it because they're immediately set upon by hostile pygmy headhunters!

In an interlude, we go to Grendel, who's pissed off and killing the swamp men from #2, cursing at Satan and wanting Beowulf delivered to him. Satan appears, says "you better recognize", and promises that BW will be his on the next full moon. This seems to placate Grendel for now, but he's still surly.

Back to BW and company. As he walks up to one of the pygmy chiefs he says to Wiglaf and Nan-zee "This will be a good lesson for the two of how much more can be accomplished by CHARM and DIPLOMACY rather than by SWORDS!" When he explains that he comes in peace and only wishes to slay the Black Viper and claim his venom, they get REAL mad and start throwing spears and shooting arrows! Nan-Zee: "What CHARM! What DIPLOMACY! What a WAY WITH WORDS!" to which Wulfy replies "Nan-zee, why don't you take your sword and...oh, forget it!" The rest of the company joins up with BW just in time to help out, encounter a large warrior, who towers above his brethren. As they battle, BW takes advantage of the closeness of the pygmy chief to bring an end to the struggle, as you can see at left. Of course, BW has no intention of killing the pygmy chief, and out of surprise and gratitude, he realizes that he's been wrong about the Viper and gives Beowulf permission to get the venom he seeks. The giant is introduced as Sydriit, and he'll join up with Wulfy's group later on.

Beowulf then goes off alone to get his prize, and we see the Black Viper in this fantastic page by Villamonte. After he dispatches the giant serpent, he drinks the venom but feels no stronger. He decides he probably won't until he finishes his quest, and this issue ends with him telling us that first the moon will soon be full (remember Satan's promise to Grendel?) and they will have by then crossed the desert in search of the Zumak fruit tree.

And the whole full moon thing is quite apropos, because in this issue, #4, Beowulf meets DRACULA! That's right, DRACULA! Not exactly the vampire count of yore (yet), but Vlad Tepes the Impaler, who is in conflict with the Ashers, the Lost Tribe of Israel, who hunt him for his atrocities. But I'm getting ahead of things here.

As Wulfy and company trek across the desert, they are attacked by the Ashers, who mistake them for Vlad and his men. Beowulf convinces them of the truth by virtue of a huge chain. Seeing the error of their ways, the Asher leader introduces himself as Bruzz-Solomon and his second-in-command as Yusashia Ben Simon, and explains how Vlad Tepes, the evil Wallachian, has invaded the desert from the north- not to conquer but to plunder, torture and kill. In a really nice montage, artist Villamonte depicts him and his men dealing death and Vlad in one scene refusing to drink wine, instead preferring a cup of blood. He says, that's right, "Fool- I never!" Anyway, the Ashers apologize and Beowulf says "You may dress differently and believe in a different god, but we fight for the same cause. Beowulf stands WITH you against the madman Dracula!" They then retire to the campfire to plot strategy. But.

In the meantime, another interlude with Grendel as he once more confronts Satan, reminding him of his promise from last issue. Satan obliges, and magically transports Beowulf, Hondscio and Wiglaf back to Castle Hrothgar! BW realizes that this must be Satan's work and somehow intuits that he will face Grendel that night, and resolves to do so alone. Wiggy and Hondscio object, and after doing the rock-paper-scissors (I swear!) they determine that they will stand guard with their comrade. After a long, tense period of waiting...Grendel bursts in and attacks without warning, immediately grabs Hondscio, and eats him alive! This causes Beowulf to go berserk with rage and attack, and the battle is on, as you can see at left. Problem is, y'see, it doesn't go very well for BW since he doesn't have all his magical stuff yet, and Satan calls it off by transporting Wulfy and Wiglaf back to the desert, where they must break the sad news about their comrade to the rest of the company. Unfortunately, there's no time to mourn as they are suddenly set upon by the Wallachians, with Vlad Tepes at the head! The battle rages on, with one unfortunate casualty for the Ashers: Solomon, who gets a death scene which made me a huge fan of this series in just one page.

As a 15-year-old, when I was reading this for the first time, I had kinda been on the bubble about this comic so far. I liked the nonstop action and humor, and appreciated Ricardo Villamonte's art, but in the death scene of Bruzz-Solomon, I found drama and pathos, and a thrilling segue into the meat of this issue: the fight between Beowulf and Dracula. After this, I was drinking the Beowulf Kool-aid for the duration...and this small but perfectly-done scene is still one of the best I've read in comics. Sometimes that's all it takes, kids.

The fight scene's not bad, either, as the savage Tepes matches the brutish Beowulf blow for blow until Vlad actually unhorses BW...and is swooping in for the kill! But is suddenly stopped short by a sword into his own gut, courtesy of one of his own men, who was conveniently possessed by Satan. Seems that ol' Satan one, didn't want BW killed just yet, and two, was so impressed by Vladdy that he chooses him to be his heir, and makes him the "...first of the undead, the count of a race of human vampires that will walk the Earth for all eternity!" After they're gone, the two remaining warrior chiefs say their goodbyes, with Ben Simon leaving Beowulf with a Star of David for good luck.

Next up, in issues 5 and 6: UFO's! And a Minotaur!

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