Saturday, February 11, 2006

Image Hosted by

Yep, it's BEOWULF. DRAGON SLAYER. A three part JBS exclusive series which will outline the short-lived but fondly remembered (by me anyway) DC series from their equally short-lived Sword 'n' Sorcery books, designed to ride the coattails of Marvel's popular Conan series, in 1975. It was based, of course, on the legendary poem (which I've never read), but it's more of a re-imagining than an adaptation. Future movie scriptwriter and producer Michael Uslan was the author, and hitherto unknown Peruvian artist Ricardo Villamonte, whose gritty and expressive style- evocative of Hal Foster- stood out, despite the cheap-ass paper it was printed upon. The editor was Dennis O'Neil, not long after his great writing on Batman, The Shadow, Sword of Sorcery, and Ironwolf- and honestly, sometimes Uslan's dialogue reads a LOT like O'Neil's from the period. BDS lasted 6 issues; more than brother titles Stalker and Justice, Inc. but less than Claw the Unconquered, Rima the Jungle Girl, and the all time champion Warlord. And now, the cast.

Image Hosted by
BEOWULF. The hero of the piece. Red hair, stylin' helmet. Made from the skull of a minotaur, no less.

Image Hosted by
GRENDEL. Repulsive dragon man-creature, full of piss and spite.

Image Hosted by
Hmm. I don't know. Could be...perhaps...SATAN. Yep, him. None other. Please allow me to introduce.

Image Hosted by
THE SHAPER. By far the strangest and most colorful character in the whole damn book, and that's saying something. Looks like a cross between Marvel's Diablo, the Joker, Merlin and Gandalf, makes predictions in rhyme, and when he casts spells they are oddball anachronistic phrases rendered backwards, such as "Siht potnanoc eestel!" ("Let's see Conan top this!")

Image Hosted by
NAN-ZEE: Former warrior princess, siren and slave of Satan, soon to be recruited to Beowulf's band. No idea if her previous lover was Slug-Go.

Image Hosted by
WIGLAF, HONDSCIO: Beowulf's comrades in arms, his Fandral and Hogun. The only ones, until Sydriit (who hasn't been introduced yet) that get any significant "screen time".

Image Hosted by
HROTHGAR: Elderly king who owns the castle in which the merrymaking ensues that angers Grendel so.

Image Hosted by Image Hosted by
His Basil-Rathbone-in-Adventures of Robin Hood-like "Champion", UNFERTH, a scheming, sniveling, nogoodnik, also dwells here, along with Hrothgar's daughter, the princess WEALTHEOW. No, I don't know how to pronounce that, either. I think she will go on to exchange fashion tips with the Shaper.

OK. Now that the cast has been introduced, here's what happens in issue 1. With pictures!

In this first issue, basically, the stage is set and the players (well, most of them, anyway) are introduced. In a festering swamp, somewhere outside Castle Hrothgar in the dim and distant past, the horrible creature called Grendel wallows in the mire and is pissed beyond belief at the sounds of laughter and partying in the castle. There's an evil gleam in his eye as he swears to kill everyone in the castle "For Satan". Next, we head thousands of miles away as Beowulf and his men are in the middle of heated battle with the Franks, and we get to see right off the bat what kind of tone this adaptation will provide as Beowulf boasts as he strikes: "Fight back, you fools! Or do I hold you in such terror that you cannot strike..." Upon which, one of the Frankish soldiers hits him upside the head with a mace as Beowulf gets out a surprised "...Me?". Wiglaf then dispatches the mace-wielder, as Beowulf remonstrates him: "I fear you're too late to spare me one pounding headache, Wiglaf!", to which Wiggy replies "If my prince would learn to open his eyes as wide as his mouth in a battle..." To which Wulfy replies "Oh, shut up and fight!" ...and right there is where it got me- I could tell, even at 15, that this was something else, more along the lines of Lieber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories- playful and high-spirited rather than leaden and dull, like the Thomas/Buscema Conan comics that were so popular at the time (after Barry Windsor Smith stopped drawing Conan, I bailed anyway, for what it's worth).

As you can see in the page scan at right, after the battle (and isn't that a striking panel that Villamonte gives us of BW surveying the aftermath?), the strange being called the Shaper is brought to the victorious Beowulf. He gives the prince a cryptic message warning him about Hrothgar's troubles, and he sets sail post haste to help. When asked why, he replies "For "lof"..."Lof", or fame as some call it, is the most permanent of all things in an impermanent world. That fame will keep the "Spirit of Beowulf" alive centuries after I am dust!". Mighty philosophical for a barbarian warrior, huh!

We go back now to Castle Hrothgar, and we find the Shaper again, who has managed to arrive ahead of Wulfy and company. He delivers another puzzling prophecy in poem form, and as the principals (Unferth, Hrothgar), debate its meaning, suddenly Grendel breaks in the castle and attacks! No one can stop him, especially craven Unferth, and after killing several men, he lumbers back to the swamps- sated for now.

Beowulf and company are next seen sailing towards Daneland, and they encounter a siren, who casts a spell on all the men (except BW, of course, who manages to hold out 'cause he's cool like that)- leading them to steer their ship into the rocks! BW jumps off the ship and swims towards the woman, subdues her, and breaks the spell (by slugging her, of course- bear with me here). It is then revealed that she was a possessed slave of Satan, and she was protecting an entrance to the Underworld. BW is then attacked by demons who emerge from the portal, and gets the best of all but one, who attacks behind is back- but is saved by the siren, who is now clear-headed and herself again. When BW asks who she is, she replies that she is Nan-zee, a Scyfling warrior- at which BW erupts into sexist pig laughter and NZ knocks him into the mud at their feet with a haymaker. After this "meet-cute", NZ persuades BW to let her accompany him on the quest, because she has a score to settle with Satan.

When the group arrives at Hrothgar, Unferth realizes that his place in the castle, as the King's champion, is in jeopardy if BW makes him look like the weak coward he is, so he casts a misdirection spell designed to lead the party through a monster-infested swamp. And that's where #1 ends.

#2 picks up where #1 left off, as the company prepares to do battle with some loathsome swamp creatures, thanks to Unferth.

As they struggle with creatures and quicksand, Nan has a sudden conviction- they must stop fighting and let themselves be pulled under! A bit dubious, they comply and find themselves suddenly tumbling into Hell. Nan, former Slave-Maiden of Satan that she was, recognized the presence of a gateway in the swamp. As they seek an exit, they are set upon by a giant three-headed dog and the character on the cover, another Slave-Maid- this time a flaming giantess, who burns the men if they try to strike her, and melts their swords. This time, Nan-zee knows how to fight fire with fire (so to speak), and chops off part of her hair, weakening and pissing her off, and causes her to summon them (by using the curse, "Enoya! Sinnet!"- read it backwards) to a face-to-face with the Man himself, Satan. At this, pale little troll-demons appear in huge numbers, and push them all in a certain direction, until suddenly- a dragon pops out of a cave! In the page scan, notice the dragon's name, another of the numerous amusing puns throughout this series. After BW dispatches this "magic dragon", they finally meet His Infernal Nibs himself, the magenta-hued and reptilian Satan.

Satan proceeds to explain what's going on with Hrothgar and his people, and how he's playing games with all of them by getting Grendel all worked up to go and wreak carnage on they asses (He reveals "...I, er, knew his mother once!"), and goes on to say that once this all plays itself out to its conclusion, they ALL will die! Ever the diplomat, the enraged Beowulf leaps up and cuts Satan's ear off! Understandably pissed, Satan decides to bring the audience to an abrupt conclusion by telling BW how to defeat Grendel, to advance his Satanic plot and to get them the heck out before they cut anything else off. What he tells them is in the page scan at left.

As you can tell, where we were once in Homer's Odyssey territory, we are now in a 12 Labors of Hercules direction.

While BW and co. are occupied in the Pit, Grendel makes another bloody visit to Castle H, but is called off by Satan, who then delivers our heroes to the doorstep of the Castle. As they wade through the gore, they are spotted by the surviving Danes, who are overjoyed to have their potential deliverer finally among them, and despite the recent events decide to have a big celebration.

During the party, BW has a confrontation with Unferth, which doesn't end well for the latter. BW then goes on to tell Hrothgar what Satan told him, and inform him that he must go on a quest to get the necessary components to defeat Grendel once and for all. It is then decided that they will form a company, with the Shaper, Unferth (and his right-hand-man, the Silent One) and leave at sunrise. And that's where #2 ends.

Next up, sooner rather than later, hopefully, #'s 3 and 4.

No comments: